By John Schaffner
I don’t want to see Sandy Springs going around in circles about how to deal with traffic problems.
However, I would like the city to seriously consider roundabouts (also known as traffic circles) and maybe even some jug handles.
I will explain that just a little later. But first, an explanation of how all this came up.
We recently held a panel discussion that included three commercial/retail developers (Lonnie Mimms, CEO of Mimms Enterprises; Jan Saperstein, owner of Sandy Springs Plaza; and Kirk Demetrops, principal of MidCity Real Estate Partners), Nancy Leathers, director of Community Development for Sandy Springs, and Trisha Thompson, zoning chair for the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods.
What we were trying to do was define a “Downtown” for Sandy Springs. We wanted these five people to think “out of the box” and create a vision for the center of this city.
Three things dominated the discussion: a focal point for Downtown Sandy Springs needs to be determined; the city needs to step forward and make City Hall and other amenities happen and perhaps add an institutional structure, such as a university; the intersection of Roswell Road with Johnson Ferry and Mount Vernon is the second worst traffic bottleneck in Sandy Springs, if not number one.
I suggested then and reiterate now that a large roundabout—with a small park in the center—be put at that intersection. The purpose would be not only to control traffic, but also to help establish and draw attention to that as the focal point of downtown Sandy Springs.
Now, I realize that the subject of roundabouts has mainly been taboo with most people in the south and certainly with the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT). I think that has mainly been a fear of the unknown.
But I lived for several years in southern New Jersey, where roundabouts—and even jug handles—are commonplace. I have experienced how these relatively old-time concepts can work to move traffic more efficiently and, in many cases, establish a crossroads as a place in community.
Roundabouts are dramatic. Jug handles are merely efficient. A jug handle, for those who have never experienced one or who have simply never heard that term used for one, is called a jug handle because it looks like one.
It eliminates those left-hand turns across oncoming traffic on heavily traveled thoroughfares that many drivers fear. A driver who wants to turn left from a major road onto a cross street or make a U-turn passes the side street and turns right onto a loop access ramp—a jug handle—that puts them in position to cross the main road or make the U-turn on it with the help of a traffic signal at the intersection.
There are some people, including Mimms, who hope the widening of Abernathy Road will take cut-through traffic from Cobb County off Roswell Road and Johnson Ferry Road near Roswell Road. He believes those people headed to Perimeter Center and Pill Hill will continue on Abernathy over to Ga 400 and the Perimeter Mall area and bypass the core of Sandy Springs.
“No matter how much you want to sugar coat it,” Mimms said, “we can’t ignore this enormous problem—the traffic that’s going through here that has no intention of stopping or shopping or anything.”
Roundabouts, however, could both improve traffic flow and help create focal points for the Sandy Springs downtown. I could actually see a series of roundabouts—at Sandy Springs Circle and Johnson Ferry, on Johnson Ferry near the library, on Roswell Road at Hammond Drive — helping to define a city center core.
As Saperstein said during the panel discussion, “You’ve got to create your heart. Once you build your heart, then the arterial issues will clearly come into play. Create your court and the rest will follow.”
On June 21, we attended a traffic information session at the Benson Center that focused on at least three alternative approaches to dealing with the problems of the confluence of Johnson Ferry and Mount Vernon with Roswell Road and Johnson Ferry with Mount Vernon farther east from Roswell Road.
Thompson, Saperstein and I all immediately noticed that roundabouts were included in two of the alternatives—but not at Roswell Road. The roundabouts were east of Roswell Road where Johnson Ferry and Mount Vernon come together with Boylston Drive—near the library and the Mount Vernon Towers senior facility.
Saperstein was encouraged that the city traffic planners were even considering roundabouts in their plans, but he asked the same question that was on my mind: “Why not at Main on Main?” meaning the intersection of the two main roads, Roswell and Johnson Ferry Roads.
Asked that specific question, Public Works Director Tom Black said, “That’s an interesting idea, but no one has had the courage yet to seriously consider that.”