WALKER — Everyone has an opinion about the roundabouts on each side of Interstate 12 here.
Whatever they think about it, Walker Police Chief David Addison and his officers know what motorists do in either roundabout will affect how many times a week – or day – they will find themselves answering calls there.
“Traffic is an important part of the department,” said Capt. John Sharp, public information officer for the Walker Police Department.
Sharp is also in charge of the department’s social media, posting notices – and sometime photos -- of accidents in the roundabouts to alert motorists.
“There are a lot of accidents in the roundabouts. It is taxing on us,” Sharp said.
Monday marked the 239th day of the year. During that span, Walker officers have investigated a total of 136 accidents in the roundabouts, Sharp said.
That’s one accident every 1.7 days.
“And that is a low number,” Sharp said.
It does not include accidents where motorists stop, don’t notify police, shake hands and leave, he said, or accidents where motorists move their vehicles out of the roundabouts.
If an officer answers a call of an accident at Wholly Grounds, a coffee shop near the north roundabout, “We credit it as being there,” Sharp said, since officers have to list where they find the vehicles.
Addison has instituted more visibility and traffic enforcement as ways to get motorists to slow down and be more alert.
“We’ve seen accidents drop,” Sharp said. “If the roundabout was not there,” he said, the drop in accidents “would be tremendous.”
“Those accidents are considered low speed” in the roundabouts by DOTD, Sharp said.
“I think that is true, but the property damage has gone up and the numbers have gone up.
“The south roundabout opened in August 2017, but the north roundabout is proving to be a bigger problem due to the large number of people coming south on Walker South Road,” Sharp said.
Several factors influence the accident rate in the roundabouts.
--Motorists in the circle have the right of way, Sharp said, and a yield sign means yield.
To understand traffic behavior, the police captain said he has parked his vehicle on the red tarmac and watched traffic for a couple of hours at a time.
Motorists “blow through” the yield signs, he said, so Sharp has pulled motorists over and explained the law, giving them a warning.
“Not a lot of tickets. We’re trying to be proactive,” he said.
--Which lane goes where.
When a motorist comes from the north to Interstate 12 east to Hammond, to obey the signs and lane markings, a motorist has to go from the inside lane to the outside lane, Sharp said.
“Why can’t we have the right lane going south only and the inside lane to I-12 east circle around,” he asked.
--Speed. Despite what some motorists think, there is no posted speed for the roundabouts, according to Sharp.
Those 15-mph signs? Those signs are in orange, a “suggestion,” Sharp said; speed limit signs are rectangular and white.
So Walker officers can write tickets for failure to yield or reckless driving, but rarely for speeding.
Sharp’s message to the state Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) -- “Give us the ability to put someone there and write a ticket.”
The posted speed from Florida Boulevard south on Walker South Road past the roundabouts is 45 mph, Sharp said.
He admits he has tested his driving skills by attempting 45 mph in the roundabout.
“I’ve done it and it is not fun,” Sharp said.
Chief Addison is in the process of putting together a proposal to submit to DOTD to lower the speed limit to 35 mph on La. 447 (Walker North/Walker South Road) from Ball Park Road south past the roundabouts.
“Highway 447 in the city limits is only two miles long. Lowering the speed limit to 35 from 45 won’t take away a significant amount of anybody’s time,” Sharp said.
“I clocked one at 70 mph on Walker South,” Sharp said.
“Excluding the roundabouts, the area from McGowan to Florida has the most accidents in the city.”
“There is nothing to slow anyone down from Florida to Walmart and they can build up substantial speed. I’ve lobbied for a light at Brian Park or Aydell (Lane) to break up the speed,” Sharp said.
Speeding motorists stay in that frame of mind when they get to the roundabouts.
“I saw a lady go through the circle on two tires,” Sharp said.
--Long-bed trucks and 18-wheelers are challenged in the roundabouts, sometimes needing both lanes to complete the circle.
“We have had two rollovers, I don’t know why we haven’t had more,” Sharp said.
Two weeks ago, a truck lost its load of pipe in the roundabout. Each length of pipe weighed 2,000 pounds he said.
A DOTD Trackhoe working nearby helped move the pipe.
“They were happy to help,” Sharp said.
Livingston Parish school system Transportation Supervisor Jeff Frizell said school buses have not reported problems with other traffic in the roundabouts.
“We have not had one driver complain,” Frizell said.
The transportation supervisor said he even talked to a bus driver who navigated the roundabout daily last year.
“She didn’t have any issues,” he said.
The only worry during the heavy construction period was watching for traffic signs protruding too close to buses, he added.
--Lights. Still ahead for the roundabouts is the installation of lights.
A $783,745 contract with Jack B. Harper Electrical will bring lights to the roundabouts by December, according to the DOTD website.
“When people think of traffic enforcement, they think of an officer with a radar gun in his hand, looking for speeders,” Sharp said.
“That is a small part of the overall game plan,” he said, which includes the roundabouts.
“We want to be visible on Walker South and Florida. We want motorists to know we are here.”
“It will get better,” Sharp said. “Nothing is more important than to keep people safe.”