Almost a year after traffic circles were installed in River Heights, residents say they remain a confusing obstacle for drivers, have done little to cut down speeds and have even become a source of amusement for joyriding teens.
"People who drive through here are not slowing down," said Graham Wiebe, whose home overlooks a circle at Warsaw Avenue and Cockburn Street.
"Especially those used to going (north or south down Cockburn), there was never a stop sign. People aren’t thinking as they meet somebody in the intersection. Everybody is supposed to slow down, not one or the other."
A block away, near Arbuthnot Street, resident Brett M., who wouldn’t give his last name, said the circles have done little to cut down speeds and increase safety.
"They’re a pain in the ass and people still don’t know what to do," he said. "Everybody blazes through them, so it doesn’t do a bit of difference. Younger kids keep purposely going around it like a game."
The problem is worse for pedestrians, added Brett, who regularly walks his three-year-old Labrador cross.
"It’s confusing for drivers. Some of them don’t stop, some do stop. They really don’t know what to do or who goes first."
In 2010, the city installed 36 traffic circles as part of a $24-million active transportation upgrade. The circles were installed to improve traffic flow, cut down idling vehicles and accommodate cyclists.
Commuter cyclist Joanne Klassen said the circles have allowed for increased cycling traffic, but more education is needed for all commuters.
"Who has the right of way? Do we signal?" she asked. "Even a learning pamphlet for those in the area would be great. I haven’t seen one."
The circles initially drew the ire of many River Heights residents and became a hot topic in the civic election, with many critical of the city’s public consultation process.
"My role as a city councillor is to make sure people are informed and have the information they need to provide input," said River Heights Coun. John Orlikow. "That was a galvanizing moment that showed how much work I need to do to get to that point.
"You can’t throw out information and say the citizens are engaged."
Orlikow agreed with residents that the city has been slow to educate drivers and that school campaigns and TV spots have been ineffective.
"The city has been doing stuff, but it hasn’t worked and I haven’t been impressed," he said, adding education should have begun prior to the circles being installed.
The mayor has agreed to beef up education, Orlikow said, adding one of the recommendations is to send information through the mail.
Regardless of how residents and users feel about them, the question remains: Are they serving their purpose?
The short answer is, nobody knows.
The city has only conducted one small speed survey, said city spokeswoman Tammy Melesko.
While there are plans to tweak signage, the city is not yet at a stage to evaluate the circles, she said, and there are no current plans to build other circles in the city.
Still, Klassen and Wiebe believe the circles serve a purpose, even if drivers have been slow to take to them.
"I think they’re useful," said Wiebe. "I’m sure the people who decided to put them in were looking at other cities. People are just not used to them."
"I’d say a four out of five," said Klassen, noting it was likely a better solution than installing four-way stop signs. "I don’t think they’re necessarily calming traffic, but I think they’re good. They’re more convenient. People wouldn’t stop anyway. A lot of people roll through stop signs."
Scraped and scuffed, the traffic circles lining intersections of River Heights are unlikely to win design awards any time soon.
"Right now they’re very ugly," said area councillor John Orlikow.
While the angry calls flowing through his office about the circles have slowed down, it’s still an active file on Orlikow’s desk. One of the priorities is working faster to clean up the circles and figuring out how to make them attractive, Orlikow says.
"I’ve recommended having a contest with the University of Manitoba or urban designers to see what they’d suggest," said Orlikow.
That includes planting shrubbery durable enough to withstand car emissions and small enough not to cause sight problems for drivers. Public art may also be a component, Orlikow said.
"We need to beautify them. I want them to be green and attractive," he said. "I’m tired of reasons, I just want them looking a lot nicer."