Road construction in Grand Rapids over the past few years has included a few roundabouts, the most recent of which was near the Itasca County Fairgrounds. They’ve become a popular intersection traffic-control system in communities across the country because of the lack of maintenance and general smoothness of traffic flow that they allow.
Now LaPrairie is getting in on the roundabout action, but in a slightly unconventional way. At the intersection of Voges Avenue and Fraser Street, a pop-up roundabout has been installed as a test to see what the community thinks of a different style of traffic control.
The temporary mini-roundabout, otherwise known as a neighborhood traffic circle, has been installed through a partnership between the City of LaPrairie and Get Fit Itasca. Last year, the city was working toward a new comprehensive city plan, and a topic that was regularly brought up by residents was the issue of traffic calming. On some of the longer, straight streets in the residential neighborhoods, cars would regularly speed up beyond the posted limit, causing concern for those who lived on these streets and who regularly walked or biked on them.
“According to [Walkable and Livable Communities Institute consultant Dan Burden], if you have something in the middle of the street, it calms traffic,” said LaPrairie Mayor Mike Fall. “So at the particular intersection we put it on, it was a four-way stop. So people could now go around, but they still have the visual in the middle of the street which is supposed to calm traffic down.”
Burden was brought in to help develop LaPrairie’s comprehensive city plan.
Get Fit Itasca Community Health Coordinator Ashley Runge noted that the pop-up model for this roundabout is perfect because it’s an inexpensive way to test out a new system.
“We wouldn’t want to force something on a community if it just doesn’t work for them,” said Runge.
But from the community input from the city’s new comprehensive plan, a traffic solution is on LaPrairie’s to-do list. Whether the traffic circle is the solution they’re looking for has yet to be seen. The structure -- made of hay bales, roundabout signs, and a small tree -- was installed on July 16, and will be there for roughly three weeks while data is collected on driving patterns. City officials are also gathering opinions from community members on their thoughts about the mini roundabout.
“It’s mostly been positive. Most people see it as a way to try to improve the community and slow down traffic and provide for more walkability,” said Fall. “But it’s mixed. I’d have to sum it up by saying that people are passionate about roundabouts. They either love them or they hate them.”
If the pop-up mini roundabout proves successful, both in public opinion and in slowing traffic, permanent structures will be built in the future, though no sooner than next summer.
To contact someone with the City of LaPrairie about the mini roundabout, or to view the city’s new comprehensive plan, visit www.laprairiemn.com.