By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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Friends of Veterans Memorial Circle has worked this year to educate motorists on roundabout rules and encourage drivers to slow down. Now, it’s also pushing for city and county officials to create a comprehensive plan that addresses both enforcement and education to increase safety.
“If we can make it prettier, we can make it safer, and we need to do that,” said Ernie Redfern, co-chairperson of the Friends of Veterans Memorial Circle. “This is unacceptable what’s going on here right now.”
The group has spent the past five years planting and watering flowers at the roundabout. The safety push comes after last year brought a record number of crashes in the roundabout’s nearly 10-year history, according to data collected by the nonprofit through a Freedom of Information Act request to police. The data shows 45 crashes in 2022, topping the previous high of 43 in 2015. There were nine crashes in the first four months of this year.
“The safety aspect of this roundabout has deteriorated, and this year it’s even going to be worse,” said Redfern, a veteran who served eight years in the Army. “I live in this community, and I’m scared to death to walk on these crosswalks.”
“This is a veterans memorial. People should be able to come here, walk safely, go to these plaques and actually read them, and they can’t.”
Redfern, who spends roughly three hours a day watering the flowers at Veterans Memorial Circle, has seen numerous crashes firsthand.
“We had five accidents in one week that we witnessed,” Redfern said.
He said bad driving, not roundabout design, is the key issue. He points to lack of education about how to use roundabouts as the primary cause of safety issues. For example, when the friends of Veterans Memorial Circle circulated a 20-question quiz earlier this year about roundabout rules, only 60% of people knew the speed limit range for roundabouts was 15-25 miles per hour. And that’s with the group discounting any quizzes where the person taking it didn’t score at least 50%.
“We also need to reinforce that with enforcement,” Redfern said. “We can do all the education in the world, but if the state, county and city police departments are not willing to enforce what we’re doing, then what good does it do.”
Members of the nonprofit spent the Fourth of July morning holding signs that read “slow down for our veterans” and “15 mph!” at the four entrances to the roundabout.
The group has also purchased dozens of copies of the children’s book “Ronda Loves Roundabouts” and distributed to various schools, churches and other organizations to help educate future generations of drivers. The group is raising money to purchase 100 more books to give out around the city.
The group has met with city officials to discuss concerns about safety. The third week in September is dubbed by the Federal Highway Administration as National Roundabout Week. The nonprofit hopes the city will use that to launch a program to address safety at Main and Auburn.
“We want an acknowledgement from the city, the county and the state that they have a problem and they need to address it,” Redfern said. “We’re going to do what we think we can do to advance it, but we can’t just continue going down this spiral path.”
Redfern said that the group’s research of 11,000 roundabouts in the country showed this is the only one dedicated as a veterans memorial.
“Are we allowing just a tremendous disrespect to the veterans and their families by letting this continue to go out of control,” Redfern said. “If you’re going to name something a veterans memorial, you inherit some responsibility to ensure it is portrayed in a dignified manner, and we see that lacking.”