Residents showed up at City Hall in force recently to oppose a traffic circle at the intersection of Vermack and Womack roads.
They told members of Dunwoody City Council on Oct. 15 that the proposed roundabout will be a danger to pedestrians, invite more traffic and pose an unnecessary cost to taxpayers.
“We live near it and we think it’s going to be unsafe for pedestrians,” John Crawford of Shadowbrook Court told council members. “It defies logic that if you don’t have to stop, it’s going to be safer for pedestrians.”
Dunwoody Public Works Director Michael Smith and representatives for Michael Baker Corp. told the council members and skeptical residents that the traffic circle would be safer than the existing interchange. It also would ease driving through the intersection, now a four-way stop and a frustrating bottle-neck during morning and evening rush hours, they said.
They said traffic at the intersection is made worse by its proximity to a number of schools. Dunwoody High School, Dunwoody Elementary, Georgia Perimeter College and Vanderlyn Elementary are all less than a mile from the intersection.
Dunwoody High School, in particular, is directly adjacent to the intersection. Smith said an entrance to the school from Womack would be closed as part of the intersection improvement.
Residents and council members also questioned the cost of additional pedestrian safety mechanisms at the intersection, such as raised crosswalks and flashing lights to indicate crossing pedestrians. They were not included in the estimated $900,000 cost of the project, which fell $100,000 below the estimated cost of adding a traffic light and turn lanes to the intersection.
LPA Project Manager Tyler McIntosh told the council that a traffic circle would be superior to both a four-way stop and a traffic light in terms of pedestrian safety and flow of traffic at the intersection.
McIntosh added that, according to his group’s study, the roundabout would save residents $3,134,786 in reduced delay time, wasted fuel and accidents [nearly three and a half times the traffic circle’s estimated $900,000 price tag] over the course of three years.
McIntosh cited findings by the U.S. Department of Transportation that, compared to a standard four-way stop, fatalities and injury crashes occur at significantly lower rates at traffic circles.
The reason for this, explained McIntosh, is the reduction in both the number and severity of “conflict points,” or locations where vehicle paths intersect. “You don’t have these sharp-angle collisions where you have more severe injuries,” McIntosh told the Council. “They’re very soft angles.”
Pedestrians, Smith said, also would benefit. A single direction for traffic and pedestrian “safety islands” planned between lanes, he said, means pedestrians would have to look for traffic coming from one direction instead of four.
“From experience with walking with my kids every day, even with the walking signal, you have to rely on the drivers to stop at the light and then you have [vehicles] turning from either direction,” Smith said.
Residents, however, seemed unconvinced about the plan’s safety and unimpressed with savings they say will benefit Gwinnett County commuters, who use the street as a through-way.
“This is a unique intersection. There are four different schools nearby,” said resident Rosemary Gorham. “If you make it easier to drive down this road, it will only encourage more drivers from Gwinnett County, who are not Dunwoody residents and do not pay taxes in this city, to use it. If you build it, they will come.”