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More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Traffic Circles in Tacoma

A traffic circles is, by virtue of its location smack in the middle of the road, a fairly visible aspect of the neighborhood in which it is located. A well-maintained traffic circle gives a good impression of the neighborhood; a neglected circle... doesn't.

Tacoma has a lot of traffic circles; more than the average city. 153, to be exact. Of those 153, 124 are landscaped, and the remainder are asphalted. The City does not maintain the circles.

At this week's Neighborhoods & Housing Committee meeting City staff presented an overview of how Tacoma handles traffic circles. A discussion followed of the challenges and potential opportunities for encouraging neighbors to take responsibility for traffic circle upkeep.

Traffic circles in Tacoma have traditionally been installed as a part of the City's traffic calming program, on a complaint basis. Intersections with four or more accidents a year will be considered for a traffic circle; streets with speeding issues typically are considered for speed bumps.

The City requires support from nearby neighbors in the decision to install the traffic circle, and gives the neighbors the choice between a landscaped traffic circle, or an asphalted one. Before the City will install a landscaped circle, it requires a two-year adopt-a-spot agreement be signed. After that, however, there is no formal plan to ensure the circles are maintained.

Of the existing 124 landscaped circles, 43 are currently adopted under adopt-a-spot agreements. The adopt-a-spot agreement doesn't have teeth, though, as the City doesn't do enforcement or impose penalties.

Council discussion was informal, and there doesn't appear to be any specific plan in the works yet, but some ideas were discussed for encouraging residents to maintain nearby circles: paper/published/online award or recognition, a possible contest between neighborhood councils, partnership with community garden groups, and financial reimbursement from neighborhood councils all came up. A mention was also made of the possibility of allowing murals on asphalt traffic circles.

Both adopted and unadopted, some of the 124 are maintained better than others. So, there's the question; how do we encourage neighbors to maintain a traffic circle?

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