Ada County Highway District's June 26 open house for the proposed roundabout on 36th Street, Hill Road and Catalpa Drive was much quieter than a similar event held only two months before. That April 24 meeting drove almost 100 people through ACHD's auditorium to check out plans for a "dog bone"-shaped roundabout, replacing the confusing five-way intersection that sits in front of Hillside Junior High School now.
ACHD chief spokesperson Craig Quintana remembered the crowd being split 50/50 for-and-against the roundabout last time. This time, the folks were quieter, looking at several large displays, and writing comments beside a tray of cookies and juice. The presentation last night wasn't much different from two months ago; Quintana said some details had just been ironed out. ACHD plans to start construction on the $3.5-million project in the beginning of 2016.
"This is the last opportunity to let us know what you think," Quintana said.
That's what Joanie Fauci, a board member of the Central Foothills Neighborhood Association, was there to do. She said her neighborhood is divided on the issue, but some of their concerns include the safety of students at Hillside Junior High.
"There's no red lights to actually stop the cars," Fauci said. "And teenage kids will do what they want. What's going to block the kids from the cars? You'll have 10 kids standing in the middle of the roundabout, with traffic on either side."
She was also concerned for cyclists, as Hill Road is a major thoroughfare for spandex-clad riders who are already on high alert for their own safety. The roundabout offers no bike lane, forcing bicyclists on the sidewalks or into the only traffic lane.
"How are we going to educate drivers that bikers can be in the middle of the lane in that situation?" Fauci said. "Why do this to an intersection that only has a problem one hour a day?"
Well, because it will become a problem intersection as Boise keeps growing, Quintana said. Right now, 1,315 cars go through the intersection at the peak hour, causing noticeable backups, but not as noticeable as they'd be in the next 15-20 years, when ACHD estimates 2,715 cars will pass through the intersection.
He said a roundabout will help move that traffic smoothly and more efficiently, as well as more safely. ACHD's literature on the proposal states roundabouts have 48 percent fewer crashes than signalized intersections.
Robyn Austin spent Thursday evening in front of a large mock-up of the roundabout, where citizens could take toy cars and see how the flow of traffic worked, or show Austin where they think potential problems will be. She's with Kittelson and Associates, the local firm that designed this roundabout.
"They'll grab all the cars and put them at one side of the intersection and say, 'See, look, right here, it's going to back all the way up,'" Austin said.
It's her opportunity to show them that, hopefully, it won't.
The roundabout's original design planned almost a decade ago put a traditional roundabout at the intersection, but it would have meant taking up almost half of Hillside Junior High's lawn, taking out several mature trees, and replacing part of the floodplain, and it wasn't cost-feasible.
So back at the drawing boards, Austin's firm came up with this dog-bone design, which they've designed for other cities as well. Employees of ACHD traveled to Bend, Ore., and observed another roundabout built by Kittelson and Associates in front of a school, watching for safety concerns.
ACHD planners think this is the way to go (at least for now), but the public comment period will be open until July 10 on the project if anyone would like to voice further concerns. And Quintana isn't expecting much push-back from the Boise City Council on this one, like the Third and Bannock streets mini-roundabout proposed and shot down earlier this month. He said the city's been on board with this one since the beginning.