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Friday, October 10, 2008

Making sense of Belleville's Public Square

As long as motorists, cyclists and pedestrians pay a little bit attention, they should finally be able to make sense of downtown Belleville's Public Square.

For years, the Public Square has been the bane of vehicle operators. That was because many of them had no clue how to deal with it.

The Public Square intersection -- actually a traffic circle around the Veterans Memorial Fountain -- is at the junction of Illinois Street (Illinois Route 159) and Main Street.

Some motorists barge into the intersection with no regard to traffic already in the circle and no intention to yield. Others do yield, but then enter the intersection hoping the traffic already in the circle will yield to them. It was a confusing mess responsible for lots of accidents over the years.

The striping changes will make the Square more like a roundabout but with some differences, Belleville city engineer Tim Gregowicz told the Belleville News-Democrat. The graphic from the News-Democrat helps explain the changes.

"There will be 'Yield' signs for people coming up to the Square and 'Yield to pedestrian' signs at the crosswalks," he said. "Motorists coming into the Square will be expected to yield to traffic already in the Square."

There will be splitter traffic islands painted into each intersection with places where pedestrians can wait halfway across each street.

"For years people have wondered about how to drive around the fountain," Gregowicz said. "This should make that clearer."

In recent years, the Illinois Department of Transportation has built roundabouts in Highland, O'Fallon and Centreville. Many Tour de Stooges participants got to experience the Highland roundabout at U.S. 40 and Illinois Route 160 (Poplar Street) while driving to Lindendale Park, the starting point of the ride.

I'm sure you're wondering why Belleville's Public Square is a circle. From 1861 to 1972, the St. Clair County Courthouse was in the middle of the Public Square, with businesses and offices surrouding the building similar to other public squares throughout the country. The Veterans Memorial Fountain, originally built in the 1930s, was rebuilt in 1980, creating the current traffic circle.

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