Conway keeps finding ways to go green.
The city was recognized last year by Arkansas Business as a City of Distinction for the automation of its recycling program. This year, in a testament to not resting on its laurels, the Faulkner County seat is being recognized again.
For its development of traffic roundabouts to address traffic problems resulting from its burgeoning population, Conway is a 2012 Arkansas Business City of Distinction winner for green initiatives.
It started in 2005 when Hendrix College developed a new campus master plan and asked the city for a roundabout to help alleviate traffic on Harkrider Street. Its success led to the construction of another roundabout at an even busier intersection on Harkrider.
Today, seven roundabouts help traffic flow better throughout Conway. And as anyone with experience driving in Conway can attest, traffic has not always flowed smoothly.
“While the primary purpose for the original roundabouts was to calm traffic around the Hendrix College campus, we learned after the opening of the first one that the benefits were much greater than simply traffic calming,” Conway Mayor Tab Townsell said.
Those benefits include:
Safety. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, roundabouts reduce traffic fatalities at intersections by 90 percent, reduce injuries by 76 percent and all crashes by 40 percent.
Efficiency. Studies have shown that roundabouts reduce delays at intersections by up to 74 percent. An intersection with a traffic count of 20,000 cars a day should see an average delay of about 26.5 seconds, and a roundabout in place of that intersection could reduce delays by more than 75,000 hours per year and reduce annual fuel usage by more than 30,000 gallons.
Environment. Roundabouts in place of intersections lead to anywhere from a 55 to 61 percent decrease in carbon dioxide emissions, according to a 2003 Kansas State University study.
Townsell said initial construction costs are comparable to the installation of traffic lights, but post-construction there are virtually no ongoing maintenance or operational costs. Plus, roundabouts are fully functional without electricity.
“Roundabouts are not just more sustainable, they are more sustaining of life,” Townsell said. “Because of slower speeds, the elimination of conflict points for both cars and pedestrians and the elimination of head-on and T-bone crashes, roundabouts produce jaw-dropping safety benefits.”
So far, the wait to enter a Conway roundabout is virtually non-existent during non-rush hours and usually less than five seconds during peak traffic times, Townsell said. And he’s quick to point out that modern roundabouts are a far cry from the older, larger traffic circles many Americans have seen or experienced in Europe or the United Kingdom.
In the modern roundabouts developed in the U.K. in the 1960s and adopted here beginning in the 1990s, incoming traffic yields only to existing traffic in the roundabout. Once in, traffic is steady and has full right-of-way until it reaches its desired exit point.
Conway now has 11 roundabouts in operation including those at former major intersections such as Harkrider and Siebenmorgan, Harkrider and Winfield, Washington and Tyler, Siebenmorgan and Bob Courtway, Ott Memorial and Market Plaza, Prince and Western and Bruce and Farris. One more roundabout is under construction and three more are planned as part of the widening of Prince Street in west Conway.
“Roundabouts are now the de facto traffic management solution in Conway,” Townsell said.
He hopes Conway’s adoption of roundabouts as a safer, more efficient traffic manager will lead to other Arkansas cities exploring their use.
“Our experience with roundabouts of all sizes and traffic volumes can assure other cities in the state that roundabouts will work in their cities too,” Townsell said. “And that their citizens will learn to embrace them, even going out of their way to use them, just like the citizens of Conway have. Proliferation of roundabout use across the state would have tremendously beneficial effects on the health and safety of thousands of Arkansans.”