Friday, April 4, 2008

Traffic Solutions Circling

Something to think about this weekend:
I opened the paper today to be greeted by yet another picture of an area wreck. This one was at the corner of Amelia & Princess Anne. Here is the FLS article. Based on the details in that article about previous wrecks at that location, we could infer that the stoplights are not getting the job done. I think it's high time that VDOT and the City of Fredericksburg take a look at something other than stoplights for our intersection needs.

Just yesterday, the Washington Post ran this article about traffic circles and roundabouts used in surrounding areas, titled "A Better Way to Get Around". Take a look at the first image in their slide show, it's a test using yellow cones in a circle at an existing intersection.

The Harford Courant ran this article on safety - "Safety, Traffic Flow Give Roundabouts An Edge"

The FLS did an article here about the few local roundabouts.

And don’t forget, NASCAR almost always has you turning left.

In a small roundabout, where only single lane roads are entering, it's pretty easy to see why traffic will benefit. Everyone is only required to yield. Traffic collisions, if they do occur, are at much smaller angles. Traffic speeds are kept more constant.

It takes drivers a few times around to really figure it out. Go to Gordonsville, VA and watch for a while and you can quickly tell which drivers are from out of town. Yet most of the time, that busy multi-street intersection of US15 & US33 runs very smoothly.

Here is my wish list for intersections to convert.
Kenmore Ave @ Hanover St @ Lee St (Great example of a 5-way intersection)
Lafayette Blvd @ Kenmore Ave
Fall Hill Ave @ Riverside Dr

Last year City Council put an item on the VDOT list for "widening Fall Hill Ave". Ever since then I have deliberately chosen to drive Fall Hill at various times of the day. Twice going west I have been slowed, once by a school bus and once by a postal vehicle. Both turned left at the apartments just before the interstate. At all other times the observed flow of traffic was either above the posted limit or way above the posted limit, but rarely at the posted limit. There were the other occasional stops for red lights. Traffic did slow going up the hill, but by slowed, I mean the speed limit.

If Fall Hill becomes 4 Lanes as proposed, then what's the purpose of Cowan Blvd? What if this road were widened, single lanes separated, bike lanes installed, and separated sidewalks run down both sides. Then each intersection at Bragg Hill, Whicklow Dr, the Cal Ripken Fields, Crestview Way, the business center, etc. could get their own small roundabout, where without any stoplights one could drive from Rt1 all the way to Wegmans. These roundabouts would also act as traffic calming measures, reducing overall speeds to maintain safety with bicycles and pedestrians.

Perhaps we could get the new Arts Commission to support some public art in the medians on a rotating basis (idea borrowed from Charlottesville's Art In Place).

Concerns have been raised by current council members about the safety of pedestrians in roundabouts. IIHS has research and a study of 24 conversions "SAFETY EFFECT OF ROUNDABOUT CONVERSIONS IN THE UNITED STATES" documenting as much as a 75% decrease in pedestrian accidents at converted intersections. A quick Google search led me to this government agency article on improvements to roundabouts for the visually impaired. This article also stated that slower traffic speeds increased the occurrence of yielding to all pedestrians. Widening and re-architecting Fall Hill would be an opportune time to institute these as well as other smart and visually appealing designs.

This isn’t to say roundabouts are our answer to everything, but how many stoplights were you sitting at the last time you went through Central Park, or down Princess Anne? It’s time to start looking for alternatives, because the current set of timed and untimed lights just doesn’t get the job done.


Larry Gross said...

Don't forget the Hospital Blvd roundabout!

There is resistance from one or more transportation folks in the area to roundabouts.

Another PLUS to roundabouts is that traffic signals can cost 100, 200K a pop AND roundabouts don't need electricity to "work".

But one thing they ought to be doing in places where there are a high percentage of accidents is to use 24/7 cameras.... that will help them understand what it is in particular that is leading to the higher percentage of accidents.

Then that would help them decide what needs to be done...

and if a particular intersection has a high percentage and it's driver behavior then I'd use the cameras to nail the bad behaviors.

the particular intersection... something weird is going on because it's not a 4-way to start with.. it's two one-ways intersecting so one would think that if anything the percentage would be lower than 4-ways...

They now put cameras on school buses and dozens of cameras in schools.. why not put a few where something is going on to better understand what is going on?

Bryan said...

I thought about mentioning our few attempts at roundabouts. There is the one at the hospital, and now there is a make shift one at George & Barton Streets in front of Maury Commons.

For a major roadway, we'll have to look a little further down the road. Just before moving here, the Charlottesville airport had just completed two roundabouts. One on a secondary road leading into the facility, and a second that reconstructed an intersection with Earlysville Rd. That roadway is a heavily traveled alternative to RT29 in and out of Charlottesville.

I've been up to John's Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in MD. Several exists in that area on Columbia Pike (Rt29) use roundabouts.

I wonder if VDOT has temporary camera setups like their traffic counters? Permanent installs would probably require a bit of investment, but it's an interesting idea. And great observation about that being 2 one-way streets. I agree that intuitively that should make it safer.

kcw said...

Roundabouts are good for low to medium traffic. They are horrible for high traffic areas.

I grew up in New Jersey, the land of 'traffic circles', aka, roundabouts before people called them roundabouts in order to grab some British civility. They are destroying many that became high-traffic corridors and have a lot of difficulty formulating how to reconfigure them. Once they're up it is difficult, from a design perspective, to tear them down; especially when things develop all around them.

However the low-medium traveled traffic circles work great. You don't have to wait for a light to change in the middle of the night. No maintenance on lights, light sensors, etc, etc.

Oh and Fall Hill Ave expansion, that's easy. It would be the third access point into Central Park and will be needed whenever the Northern area of Central Park gets developed (Wagman's, etc). Ask for it now and hope you'll get it later instead of waiting until everyone is going crazy wondering why it wasn't expanded first.

Plus Cowan will eventually get crowded if/when the horse farm sells and the area between Central Park and the Hospital gets filled in.

Bryan said...

I had heard that 'traffic circle' was still used to indicate the larger diameter doughnut design, like on European Vacation, or closer to home like dupont circle.

The efficiency seems to break down when the roads that interconnect require multiple lanes.

Hopefully as we try to get this upgraded path to Wegman's, VDOT will consider something like this. Perhaps this could be the scenic route into CP/CV.

Thanks for the comments KCW.

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