For traffic engineers, roundabouts are a popular option to solve roadway congestion. But the intersections – which take a driver in a slow, counter-clockwise circle around an intersection rather than stopping and then passing through it – are still foreign to many drivers.
When proposed, they’re often met with fear and anger.
“It’s a universal first response, if you will,” Roswell’s Director of Transportation Steve Acenbrak said.
He knows firsthand. A few years ago in Roswell, residents were up in arms over the plan to build a roundabout at the intersection of Grimes Bridge Road and Norcross Street/Warsaw Road.
“It met with overwhelming public opposition initially and the City Council was in danger of backing down from their support,” Acenbrak said. “We encouraged them that this is a very common national trend and people that didn’t understand these things would be concerned about them and downright fearful.”
Acenbrak said the city of Roswell stuck to its guns and went ahead with the construction of the roundabout. Two years have gone by, and Acenbrak said the roundabout has been a “tremendous success” that has helped reduce traffic at the busy intersection.
“I’ve gotten thank-you notes, I get high fives in the grocery store. It’s been an amazing thing,” Acenbrak said.
Roundabouts have been discussed as possible solutions to traffic problems in several local areas, including Brookhaven and Sandy Springs. The situation in Roswell is similar to what is happening now in Dunwoody, where many residents are angry that a roundabout is being studied at the intersection of Vermack and Womack roads.
Engineers say a roundabout would be the safest and most cost-effective way to improve congestion at the busy, four-way stop near Dunwoody High School.
But opponents believe a roundabout would encourage more cut-through traffic to the area and would be unsafe for the many kids who walk to school because cars would no longer stop at the intersection.
At the Dunwoody City Council’s Oct. 29 meeting, opponents came dressed in red and wielding signs against the proposed roundabout. During the public comment portion of the meeting, the group pleaded with the council not to move forward with the roundabout design.
In response to the outcry, the council took a split vote to remove allocated funds for the intersection improvement from the city’s 2013 budget.
But at the following meeting, the council agreed to complete the design work for the intersection before a final decision on the roundabout is made.
Acenbrak said roundabouts are not a silver bullet, but they are a good option for many intersections.
“It was the right thing to do at that particular intersection and the [Roswell] City Council has asked us to study more locations,” Acenbrak said. “We’ve got five in design right now and more being contemplated.”
According to the Georgia Department of Transportation’s website, “Roundabouts are the preferred safety and operational alternative for a wide range of intersections.”
GDOT recommends that roundabouts be considered as an alternative for intersections that are being reconstructed, especially at intersections that have been identified as needing major safety or operational improvements.
Davis Fox, a founding member and former chairman of the Alliance to Improve Emory Village, said his community has been pleased with the roundabout at North Decatur and Oxford roads, which opened in 2011.
Fox said the community first discussed the possibility of a roundabout in 1999.
“The most important goal was pedestrian safety,” Fox said. “The intersection was not functioning well for pedestrians or drivers.”
Fox said most people agreed that something needed to be done about the traffic at the intersection, which stands at the front gate of Emory University and carries traffic from students, Druid Hills residents and businesses in the area. There wasn’t an organized opposition to the roundabout, though there were some skeptics, he said.
“Some people were scared about pedestrian safety with the roundabout and others said Atlanta drivers were inexperienced with roundabouts and wouldn’t do well,” Fox said. “All those issues were eventually resolved for the majority of the community. There were some doubters, but now you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t think the roundabout is a vast improvement from what we had before.”
Fox said an organization called Pedestrians Educating Drivers on Safety, Inc., recently recognized DeKalb County for improving pedestrian safety with the construction of the roundabout.
“We wanted to civilize the traffic. We didn’t want people racing through the area, especially when we had students and others crossing the street,” Fox said.