Most people who drive or bike along Tacoma’s neighborhood side streets rarely stop to notice the round-about traffic circles that work to keep vehicle speeds slow and pedestrians safe.
But an effort is under way at City Hall to create a program that would recognize residents and community groups that volunteer to maintain their neighborhood traffic circles.
According to Tacoma Public Works Associate Engineer Jennifer Kammerzell, the city’s traffic circle program was created in 1989 in order to curb vehicular accidents — particularly T-bone accidents, which are usually the most dangerous — at residential intersections. Currently, 153 traffic circles are scattered throughout the city. While 29 traffic circles are covered in asphalt, 124 traffic circles are crowned with landscaped vegetation. Of those, 43 traffic circles have been formally adopted by neighbors and community groups through Tacoma’s “Adopt-A-Spot” program. The program commits neighbors to a two-year agreement to maintain landscaped traffic circles.
The City of Tacoma’s Public Works Department installs an average of four to eight traffic circles each year, and repairs an equal number of traffic circles annually after they are run over by vehicles, according to Kammerzell.
Three traffic circle locations are on a waiting list to be installed, but funding is still needed. Traffic circles are installed at the request of residents or neighborhood groups that petition City Hall. The cost to install a traffic circle can range between $6,000 to as much as $50,000, depending on the streetscape and whether work needs to be done on nearby sidewalks and curbs to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, according to Kammerzell.
Some efforts have been made over the years to recognize volunteers who maintain landscaped traffic circles, but they haven’t lasted long. Years ago, one neighborhood council tried a “Yard of the Month” program. “It lasted for a year or so, but it just kind of went to the wayside,” Kammerzell told council committee members. The City has also encouraged neighborhood groups to use annual innovative grant funding for a variety of projects, including traffic circle beautification.
South Tacoma resident Pennie Smith told council committee members she maintains five traffic circles in her neighborhood. “It’s fun for me,” said Smith. “I love being outside. People are always thanking me, but then they will say, ‘Why don’t you come do mine?'”
The idea to create a traffic circle beautification program in Tacoma came to the forefront for Councilmember Boe during a trip to Vancouver, British Columbia, three years ago. “A lot of their bike parkways have some amazing traffic circles,” Councilmember Boe told fellow committee members on Monday. “On a bike, you really appreciate them because they are at your speed. [Vancouver] actually put out a book of the celebrated traffic circles for the year. They really are just spectacular. Neighborhoods get very proud and take ownership.”
Back in Tacoma, Councilmember Boe biked the city and noticed it had equally impressive landscaped traffic circles, but they were largely unnoticed.
“I came across one that was just glorious,” he said. “I must have just hit it weatherize. It was just gorgeous. I thought, ‘That’s as good or better than anything I saw in that book.'”
There is much more work to be done before a formal traffic circle beautification program is created. Councilmember Boe suggested creating a program to nominate the best traffic circle in each neighborhood district as a way to grow interest citywide.
Todd Matthews is editor of the Tacoma Daily Index and recipient of an award for Outstanding Achievement in Media from the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation for his work covering historic preservation in Tacoma and Pierce County. He has earned four awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, including third-place honors for his feature article about the University of Washington’s Innocence Project; first-place honors for his feature article about Seattle’s bike messengers; third-place honors for his feature interview with Prison Legal News founder Paul Wright; and second-place honors for his feature article about whistle-blowers in Washington State. His work has also appeared in All About Jazz, City Arts Tacoma, Earshot Jazz, Homeland Security Today, Jazz Steps, Journal of the San Juans, Lynnwood-Mountlake Terrace Enterprise, Prison Legal News, Rain Taxi, Real Change, Seattle Business Monthly, Seattle magazine, Tablet, Washington CEO, Washington Law & Politics, and Washington Free Press. He is a graduate of the University of Washington and holds a bachelor’s degree in communications. His journalism is collected online at wahmee.com.