Drivers hope traffic circle change may reduce 'honking and fingers'

Some residents of McKenzie Towne are hoping new changes to their well-used traffic circle will make it safer and easier for drivers to commute.

20 years after construction, drivers still curse southeast Calgary roundabout

Long-time McKenzie Towne resident Melanie Laurin says tempers are flaring in her neighbourhood because of the traffic circle. (Colleen Underwood/CBC)

Drivers hug their steering wheels tightly as they try to navigate their way around the two-lane traffic circle in Calgary's southeast community of McKenzie Towne.

That is, unless something goes wrong.

Then, resident Melanie Laurin says, drivers' hands get a little loose.

"A lot of honking and fingers," she says.

Road rage, too? I ask.

"Yeah, and screeching of brakes," she adds. "You have to enter and exit it very carefully, because people don't use it properly and they'll cut you off."

Laurin puts her groceries in the back seat​ of her SUV at the strip mall by one of the exits off that roundabout.

The traffic circle in McKenzie Towne causes headaches for some drivers. (Google Maps)

Some, like Ward 12 Coun. Shane Keating, say aside from drivers not knowing the rules, the design is the roundabout's biggest flaw. 

Built in 1998, he says it's too small for the number of lanes, exits and vehicles.

"I've used it many many times. It works very well, but not at peak times," he says. "And that's the problem.

"There's too many trying to get on and too many trying to get off, and so you have a hard time getting that sequence."

More lanes

The city has made a few tweaks over the years, but now residents are pushing for one more. They want the city to change three of the five exits from single to double lanes to allow more traffic to move through it more freely.

Right now, only two of the exits are dual lane. 

"So the idea is, it should function better as designed. It's only been 20 years, but you know, lessons learned, right?" says Rob Van Gastel, president of the McKenzie Towne Council.

There is nothing that is going to make that circle acceptable to everybody.- Coun . Shane Keating

These changes would require the city scrap some parking along three roads shooting off the exits: Inverness Gate S.E., McKenzie Towne Gate S.E. and Prestwick Blvd. The city roads department would also need to repaint some lines. 

Keating says he supports changing at least two of the three exits.

Some residents would like more dual lane exits at the McKenzie Towne traffic circle. (Colleen Underwood/CBC)

He's not sure whether the city could get rid of parking along McKenzie Towne Gate S.E. because there are condos along that initial stretch of road.

"Hopefully that will help ease some of the difficulty, but there is nothing that is going to make that circle acceptable to everybody," Keating says with a chuckle.

'Too dangerous' for some

​Karen McMillan, who lives in nearby Elgin, says she's not sure anything will help.

"People keep moving here and they don't know the rules," she said.

"They keep putting it in the monthly newsletters to give people the rules to know, so I don't know.

"I don't know what they're going to do to help."

Her best advice is to avoid it altogether, even telling family from Saskatchewn to take a different exit.

"'Don't use the traffic circle 'cause it's too dangerous,'" she says.

The city roads department says it has yet to receive a formal request for the lane change. It says roughly 36,000 vehicles go through it each day, with an average of 20 collisions a year reported to police, involving fewer than one injury and no fatalities.

The city says compared to a lighted intersection of similar size, this traffic circle averages slightly fewer collisions and much better outcomes, as in fewer injuries.


Colleen Underwood has been a reporter/editor with CBC news for more than 10 years filing stories from across southern Alberta for radio, television and online. Follow her on Twitter @cbccolleen.