Borough responds to concerns about roundabout

Photo by Sadie Rittman
Photo by Sadie Rittman

The construction on Chester Road, the most visible of the College’s projects, continues to face significant opposition from a small but vocal group of borough residents. A lawsuit to halt this particular construction project, led by attorney Patricia Biswanger and several community members, has been filed against the  Pennsylvania Department of Transportation on the grounds that a 23-point review of proposed road construction had been circumvented. Community members also expressed discontent at how quickly the project was moving and how invasive the development was, and they also felt as if their voice had not been heard during the planning stages of the project.

Patricia Biswanger’s office declined to comment on the developments, but other groups in the borough feel that the lawsuit is only delaying a process meant to improve the quality of life for both Swarthmore students and borough residents.

“The roundabout was always in discussion. There were opportunities to discuss the roundabout,”  said Jane Billings, manager of the Swarthmore borough.

She explained that there had been an extensive review of the way in which the development projects were being implemented and that PennDOT had even “sent [the reviewing procedures] to an outside contractor” in order to assure that all the proper procedures had been followed. Billings also expressed confusion as to why borough residents would be opposed to the project.

“Their dislike of the roundabout is a little blinding … because of the good things it will bring,” she said. She also said that at one of the community meetings about the construction projects, a resident complained that he was not going to be able to speed through the town anymore because the traffic circle would require him to slow down. The traffic circle would indeed slow down commuters, but in a safer way that would actually decrease commute times for local residents, Billings explained. She also said she had positive opinions regarding the college’s interactions with the borough as well as in regards to the development projects specifically.

“It’s disappointing that there were such extensive reviews and people still want to speak out. People in town really do feel a connection to the college … [and] I’m personally very grateful to the college for spending their own money on a public improvement project,” she said.

Timothy Kearney, the mayor of Swarthmore, holds a similar opinion. Kearney has been involved in these construction projects since their earliest stages.

“One of my main interest[s] in joining the Planning Commission was the Town Center Revitalization Project, now known as Town Center West,” he wrote in an email. “I helped draft the ordinance that defined the zoning requirements for the project. Counting my attendance at the Town Center Revitalization meetings and the discussions of the liquor license, I have been following this particular project for 15 years.”

He believes that the borough and the college have a very strong relationship.

“Nine times out of ten, college goals and borough goals are parallel. The fact is that many people in the college community are in the borough community as well and most of the people I speak with like living in a college town.  Speaking for myself, the reasons that we moved here 19 years ago was because of the college and the train,” he wrote.

He also said that the opponents to this project were a small yet vocal group, and a definite minority.

“The people who are against it gripe a bit but for the most part the comments have been positive, more relief that it is finally happening,” Kearney continued. The pending lawsuit won’t have any impact in future projects unless the borough of Swarthmore decide to put more roundabouts on state roads.

But more roundabouts may be constructed in the near future because of their utility. Mayor Kearney supports the construction of roundabouts, explaining that they make neighborhoods more walkable and safer for residents.

Roundabout construction is increasing all over the country and is supported by a large volume of research and publications on safety. The Federal Highway Administration notes that traffic circles are vastly safer than traditional intersections, by causing more than a 90 percent reduction in fatalities, 76 percent reduction in injuries, 35 percent reduction in all crashes and slower speeds that are generally safer for pedestrians. They also reduce congestion by being more efficient during both peak hours. Roundabouts are more environmentally friendly, as well. They reduce pollution and fuel use due to fewer stops and hard accelerations, and motorists spend less time idling.  They save money because traffic circles often have no signal equipment to install, power, and maintain.


  1. Modern roundabouts are the safest form of intersection in the world. Visit for modern roundabout FAQs and safety facts. Modern roundabouts, and the pedestrian refuge islands approaching them, are two of nine proven safety measures identified by the FHWA,
    The FHWA has a video about modern roundabouts that is mostly accurate (
    Modern, slow and go, roundabout intersections have less delay than a stop light or stop sign (, especially the other 20 hours a day people aren’t driving to or from work. Average daily delay at a signal is around 12 seconds per car. At a modern roundabout average delay is less than five seconds. Signals take an hour of demand and restrict it to a half hour, at best only half the traffic gets to go at any one time. At a modern roundabout four drivers entering from four directions can all enter at the same time. Don’t try that with a signalized intersection.

  2. As the leader in Montpelier, VT of the first modern roundabout in the northeast in 1995 (north of Maryland and east of Las Vegas) I can testify that even as a zealot my feelings of the loss of “place” from the roundabout replacing a stop signed intersection were undeniable and strong. Change is not easy even when it is good for your community and improved safety! Still, within a year after your roundabout is completed–for those who use that intersection in the past–almost nine in ten will be favorable or neutral for change. Hard numbers to deny! My home town of Keene, NH using all City property tax funds spent $4 million on Main Street for a roundabout in 2007 at the Post Office/Keene State intersection with the delay dropping on one busy leg from six minutes at peak hour to six seconds. Note with over 4,000 roundabouts in place today the first walker fatality has yet to occur. Tony Redington Blog:

  3. As a member of the “vocal minority”, I would ask that the reader understand some very important points:

    1) Roundabouts are not bad per se
    2) No independent peer review was ever conducted for the College roundabout
    3) The College refused to locate their hotel development anywhere other than this problematic intersection.
    4) Several years back, a survey of Swarthmore intersections was conducted locating sites suitable for roundabouts. The College roundabout intersection was not on that list.
    5)The College (and other proponents of the college roundabout) characterizes their public presentation of the roundabout plan in July of 2014 at a local school as a “hearing”…which denotes the taking of testimony. That did not occur.
    6) Route 320 is NOT a borough road, it is a state highway used more by citizens outside of Swarthmore. 7) The college utilized a developer loophole in state law to rationalize the avoidance of open process (a statutory public hearing) by buying most of the land needed for the roundabout (and swapping other parcels with PennDOT and the borough).

    Bad process = bad outcomes.

  4. Phoenix response letter

    These are some thoughts by a non-silenced member of the Swarthmore town community.

    I am asking for a public hearing and wondering why everyone is so afraid to have this
    public hearing.

    Jane Billings (Borough Manager, hired by Borough Council) cites an outside review without giving any names. In the right-to-know documents that are public knowledge, I reviewed this and note nothing that appeared like an outside peer review of that design.

    Nowhere did either the brough manager or the mayor mention the issues that the siting of the roundabout presents peculiar to THAT roundabout (Fact; a review of borough streets suitable for roundabouts was conducted a few years back; no mention was made of the College roundabout site). I would also add that when I asked for a similiar sited roundabout anywhere in he world, in July and also at Borough Council, I was not informed about any similiarly sited roubdabout in the world, bot was told to trust that this one, the forst of its kind, would, of course, work.

    I am not against roundabouts per se.
    I am asking for a public hearing regarding a roundabout development that appears to be driven by Swarthmore College desiring a main entrance to its’ southern campus. (How else to explain a hotel complex that has been characterized as economically unwise, the willingness on the part of the college to build on scarce open green space, and the absolute unwillingness of the College to consider any other location for this hotel?)

    Route 320 is a state road used mostly by people who live outside of Swarthmore. By using a developers legal loophole, all parties involved in this construction circumvented a law meant to protect the general public.

    It is unfortunate the Phoenix reporters were not at the July 2014 College roundabout presentation held at a local school. This presentation is being characterized as a “hearing” by all proponents of the roundabout. You would have witnessed an event that epitomizes this whole process; if you redefine something long enough, it becomes true for most people.

    “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” I forget who said that but it seems to be true.

    My name is Robert Small and I approve this letter.

    Robert Small
    Citizen of Swarthmore

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