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Johnson Avenue NW corridor proving ground for modern traffic tools

$8.3 million project with roundabouts and road diets begins in April

As part of a construction project that will place roundabouts at Johnson Avenue NW and Wiley Boulevard NW, shown here, and at Johnson Avenue NW and Jacolyn Drive NW nearby, crews also plan to install a “road diet.” That means the four-lane Johnson road segment will be replaced by two lanes with a center turn lane. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
As part of a construction project that will place roundabouts at Johnson Avenue NW and Wiley Boulevard NW, shown here, and at Johnson Avenue NW and Jacolyn Drive NW nearby, crews also plan to install a “road diet.” That means the four-lane Johnson road segment will be replaced by two lanes with a center turn lane. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — The Johnson Avenue NW corridor soon will be a proving ground for several modern transportation tools — including roundabouts and road diets — that will be appearing more frequently across Cedar Rapids in the next few years.

When finished, Johnson Avenue will have two roundabouts; a road diet that shrinks the four-lane road to two lanes with a center turn lane; bike lanes and sidewalks compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Not only will it offer a smoother ride, it will better accommodate more types of users complying with the city’s complete streets and sidewalk policies.

If transportation research proves true, the collision-prone road will be much safer for all.

“The Johnson Avenue project is a great example of how a road can transform to better meet traffic and pedestrian needs,” said John Witt, traffic engineer program manager. “While it’s not practical or possible to include every design consideration into every project, this one was a great candidate for some really significant improvements.”

Johnson will be completely reconstructed from First Avenue West to Midway Drive NW, with one-lane roundabouts at the intersections with Jacolyn Drive NW and Wiley Boulevard NW near Hoover Elementary.

The project, which also includes water main replacement and sanitary and storm sewer upgrades, is expected to begin next month and take two construction seasons to complete. Work on the Wiley roundabout will begin after the Hoover year ends, and work on the Jacolyn roundabout will begin after school ends in year two.

The City Council approved an estimated $5.9 million construction budget during its Feb. 27 meeting. Additional costs for design, land acquisition and right of way bring the total budget to $8.3 million. A transportation safety grant is covering $500,000.

Safety was a factor in designing the project.

About 7,000 to 9,300 vehicles per day use Johnson Avenue, and the new design can support up to 18,000, Witt said. A roundabout would have eliminated 47 of the 65 crashes at Johnson and Wiley over the last 10 years, Witt said.

Still, the changes seem counterintuitive to some.

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Scott Atwood, owner of 4 Guys Auto Sales & Body, 4705 Johnson Ave. NW, is being paid to lose some land to the project and worries about the business impact.

Distracted motorists turning from Jacolyn onto Johnson compounded with prevalent speeding on Johnson has led to numerous crashes, he said. The city documented 22 collisions from 2012 to 2017, although Atwood said police are not always called.

Atwood agreed the street surface is in poor condition and safety is a concern, but has doubts.

“I am not sure why do that by a school and up by a church where pedestrian traffic is fairly steady and vehicle traffic never stops,” Atwood said. “It makes me wonder why put a roundabout in, and how well it’s going to work. I just don’t see how that is going to change the traffic flow here.”

Witt, though, said research backs up the safety and cost saving benefits of roundabouts road diets. The city installed its first roundabout a year ago, and more of the traffic circles and road diets are on the way. The Wiley-Johnson roundabout cost $91,000 less than the cost of replacing and maintaining a new signal, he said.

In roundabouts, the more dangerous broadside and head-on collisions become sideswipes at worst, traffic moves more efficiently, vehicles are forced to slow down and more islands help pedestrians cross the street, Witt said.

The road diet concept improves safety and traffic flow by reducing collisions points and weaving when someone in a travel lane stops to turn, Witt said.

Traffic tools

More roundabouts and road diets are on the way for Cedar Rapids. Here is when and where:

Roundabouts

l Kirkwood Boulevard SW near College Community Schools (2017)

l 16th Avenue SE extension at Fifth Street SE (under construction)

l Johnson Avenue NW and Wiley Boulevard NW (2018)

l Johnson Avenue NW and Jacolyn Drive NW (2019)

Road Diets

l First Street SW from First Avenue West to Diagonal Drive SW (2017)

l Wiley Boulevard from Johnson Avenue NW to 16th Avenue SW (2018)

l Bowling Street SW from Wilson Avenue SW to Highway 30 (next five years)

l 42nd Street NE from Wenig Road NE to Edgewood Road NE (next five years)

l Sixth Street SW from 33rd Avenue SW to First Avenue West (next five years)

l Comments: (319) 339-3177; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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