Checking on some Story County community population statistics last week, I was shocked by what I saw. Gilbert’s population increased by three percent since the 2010 census, whereas Nevada’s population declined by one-half of one percent. Why?
When we moved to Nevada nearly 40 years ago, it was still a fairly complete community. It had most of the retail and service businesses to provide for the normal daily needs of its residents. Retail establishments included everything from cars, trucks and farm implements to furniture, clothing and wedding cakes. Over the years, many of these businesses succumbed to the bright light competition from shopping malls in Ames, and especially Des Moines. As original owners retired, no one stepped up to take over. Fortunately, we still have a few businesses that provide some of the basic goods and services to get by, including a hardware store, pharmacies, grocery, lumber company, variety store and several convenience stores.
After years of losing businesses, Nevada now is experiencing a small renaissance. Over the last few years, several antique and craft-type businesses opened shop. Restaurant activity also is increasing. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the new coffee shop is sufficiently patronized by Nevadans to survive? Other Nevada assets include the Fawcett Business Park, the new Story County Medical Center, the industrial area on the west side of town with the elevator and ethanol plant, and the outstanding trail, park and recreation facilities.
But a major shortcoming is keeping Nevada from joining the ranks of progressive, livable communities. Nevada does not have a roundabout! Roundabouts are circular intersections, with an island in the middle, around which traffic from converging streets always flows only in one direction, and vehicles seldom need to stop. In a roundabout even the heaviest traffic continues to move, resulting in fewer accidents, lower fuel consumption and reduced emissions. Roundabouts are found in Ames, Des Moines and its suburbs, and all across the state.
Even in tiny Gilbert, a town about one-sixth the size of Nevada, the city fathers recognized that with the exceedingly high volume of traffic, especially during the five o’clock rush minute, there was a definite need for a roundabout. Their roundabout also is an asset that city leaders can flaunt to attract potential families and businesses, perhaps as valuable for that purpose as a shopping mall, swimming pool or theater complex. I recently visited Gilbert and found that its roundabout truly is wonderful.
For those still skeptical, you should know that roundabouts have long been defining cultural elements of major European cities, as illustrated in the movie “European Vacation.” Driving in London with the family in the car, Clark Griswold, played by Chevy Chase, cannot extricate the car from the inner lane of a roundabout. As they continually go around he repeats, “Hey look kids, there’s Big Ben.” Being caught in a roundabout’s traffic is actually exceedingly rare. In our trip to Europe some years ago, we encountered a similar hectic intersection in Paris. I was able to fly through without problems, and only once cried, “Look Linda, there’s the Eiffel Tower.” And oh, successfully negotiating a mammoth roundabout with the din of traffic noise and honking of cars entering, exiting and weaving across lanes, what a heady experience!
Over the last few years, Nevada has been the center of controversy relating to changing the exits into town from U.S. Highway 30. Apparently, the intersections are some of the most dangerous in the state. The Iowa Department of Transportation presented their plans and recommendations to the city, but the planned changes did not sit well with downtown merchants, who were concerned about loss of business traffic. The city leaders, after strongly rejecting the DOT plans, suggested an alternative, which seems to have traction but sets the whole project back a couple years.
This knotty problem could have been resolved had both parties given consideration to turning the current intersections into roundabouts. The DOT wanted safer intersections with fewer accidents. Roundabout have been proven safer, and what could be safer than forcing all vehicles to slow down to negotiate a series of roundabouts. Flashing signs could be erected over US 30 warning drivers, REDUCE SPEED-ROUNDABOUTS AHEAD.
City merchants wanted potential shoppers to continue having easy access to downtown, especially the Sixth Street intersection. A roundabout on the Sixth Street exit of U.S. 30 would provide easy access, and in fact, might encourage some drivers, having already slowed down, to come into town. Perhaps we should also construct a few roundabouts on Lincoln Way. They could alleviate Nevada’s five o’clock rush minute. After all, we must daily contend with the evening crush of commuter traffic returning from Ames. A bonus in constructing all these roundabouts is attaining the distinction of being the roundabout center of the state. Maybe we could even have an annual roundabout celebration!
Fellow Nevadans, it’s time to put this city on the map by bringing it into the 21st century. Let’s give this community what we so desperately need and what so many others in the state already have — a roundabout or two. And let’s make the state pay for them. To paraphrase a prominent public personality, “Let’s make Nevada great again!”
Pete Korsching is an Iowa State University Emeritus Professor, a Nevada resident and a freelance columnist for the Nevada Journal.