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Residents want alternatives to a roundabout at ‘Malfunction Junction’

Engineering work still needed to determine feasibility of proposal
A cyclist braves “Malfunction Junction,” the intersection of East Third Avenue, 15th Street and Florida Road on July 20 in Durango. The city has proposed installing a mini roundabout in the intersection to help make it safer for cyclists and pedestrians, but neighboring residents don’t see how a roundabout is feasible there. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Some residents are unsure how a problematic intersection in the midtown area of Durango should be addressed by the city, although many do know they don’t want a mini roundabout installed there.

The three-way intersection of Florida Road, 15th Street and Third Avenue, known by some as “Malfunction Junction,” received an “F” grade from the Colorado Department of Transportation because of routine traffic congestion. Pedestrians and cyclists also cross 15th Street at the intersection, which is known by neighbors for fender-benders and road rage.

Steve Winters, a consultant with SEH engineering, said at a May midtown traffic and safety meeting – attended by 52 residents – that a mini roundabout is thought to be the best alternative because it allows steady through traffic, as opposed to stop signs or a stoplight.

But people living and working in the midtown area, 15th Street to 13th Street including Main and East Third avenues, are skeptical about planting a mini roundabout in the narrow intersection.

Jim Foster, a longtime neighbor to the intersection, said the city’s roundabout proposal is dubious.

“The mini roundabout, I think, is going to fail on almost every count in terms of safety and the cost,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot of value off a lot of properties at that end of East Third Avenue.”

Foster declined to share what real estate experts said would be the impact to his property value, but said “it is a big number.”

And he’s concerned the project would interfere with access to his and his neighbors’ driveways.

“They’d take all auto access to my house away,” he said. “The parking pad, the driveway. I’m not sure where we’re supposed to put our cars.”

Foster said he hasn’t met anyone in favor of the city’s proposal, a sentiment expressed by a number of residents and workers in the midtown area.

Karen Anesi, Foster’s next-door neighbor and president of the Boulevard Neighborhood Association, has lived next to Malfunction Junction for 44 years. She said some sort of solution is needed, but she questions why the city doesn’t consider installing a roundabout on a property it owns about 50 feet north of the intersection.

Karen Anesi has lived next to the intersection of East Third Avenue, 15th Street and Florida Road for 44 years. She said she’s seen plenty of fender-benders at the intersection over the years and understands why the city wants to make improvements to the space. But, she doesn’t think a mini roundabout proposed by the city is the right approach. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Devin King, city multimodal manager, said the city is looking into the city-owned property along Florida Road to see if a roundabout is feasible and if it fits into the project’s geometry design requirements.

The city is also looking into an alternative to the roundabout in the form of a continuous flow intersection, but that option appears to have even less support from residents, he said.

He said because the midtown safety project is still in the early conceptual stage, engineering drawings have not yet been drafted for the proposed roundabout.

“That is not sitting particularly well with some of us,” Anesi said of the lack of engineering drawings in an email to The Durango Herald.

King said even if a roundabout or continuous flow intersection are not ultimately pursued, the city will still make improvements to cyclist and pedestrian safety at the intersection where it’s possible.

He stressed the intersection at Florida Road, 15th Street and East Third Avenue is only one piece of a larger project, which aims at increasing pedestrian and bicycle connectivity and safety throughout the midtown area.

In addition to improving the intersection of East Third Avenue, 15th Street and Florida Road, the city’s midtown safety and connection project aims to make the midtown area between 15th and 13th streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists with a two-way cycle track on East Second Avenue, sidewalk and curb ramp improvements and more bike lanes on area streets. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Other aspects of the project include a two-way cycle track on East Second Avenue; sidewalk and curb ramp improvements in the midtown area; improvements to the 14th Street transit stop; a new school crossing at 13th Street and East Second Avenue; and bike lanes on more area streets, according to the city’s midtown safety project description.

King said the city is working to design the intersection improvement so residents such as Anesi and Foster can safely access the intersection from their driveways – they currently have to back out into the travel lane on East Third Avenue.

“Where we are in the design stage right now, it’s a little difficult to say exactly how or what that would look like,” he said. “ … We understand the neighborhood concerns, specifically for those folks that would be directly affected.”

He said some residents have shared concerns that people wouldn’t comply with a roundabout at the intersection, but he hasn’t seen data to suggest people don’t comply with other roundabouts around the country, and the Federal Highway Administration suggests installing roundabouts at intersections like Malfunction Junction.

Jeroen van Tyn, executive director of Stillwater Music at 1316 Main Ave. Suite C, said the regular roundabout on Florida Road near Chapman Hill isn’t big enough for cyclists as it is, and there’s no way drivers could share the road with cyclists on a smaller roundabout at Malfunction Junction.

Fifteenth Street’s grade is concerning, too. It’s a steep grade that ices over in wintertime. Van Tyn said installing a roundabout would turn the intersection into a bumper cars arena.

The proposed roundabout wouldn’t have a huge effect on Stillwater Music’s business, although Van Tyn commutes through the tricky intersection on his way to his office. But the city’s proposed traffic reroutes are another story.

Drivers make their way through the intersection of East Third Avenue, 15th Street and Florida Road on Thursday in Durango. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

The city proposes making East Second Avenue between 15th and 13th streets one-way southbound in tandem with prohibiting left turns from Main Avenue onto 14th Street, to be implemented by the Colorado Department of Transportation. Van Tyn said that causes other traffic flow problems.

He said 13th Street beside Buckley Park is currently a two-way road, but turning it into a one-way street would “completely screw up traffic” because anyone who drives up 13th Street would have to make a U-turn into incoming East Second Avenue traffic to get out.

The city is planning to create a focus group to review the Malfunction Junction intersection and to consider the benefits of working with SEH engineering, King said. And the city will seek more feedback from residents before deciding to stick to the roundabout proposal or explore other options.


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