The controversial plan to turn Buckhead’s Wieuca Road/Phipps Boulevard intersection into a roundabout returned at an April 24 public meeting with a refreshed design, but some residents still were skeptical it would work.
The two-lane roundabout concept had long been in the works by the Buckhead Community Improvement District and was last seen in a 2017 public meeting. It stalled over some community criticism, then funding shortfalls in the city’s TSPLOST and Renew Atlanta bond programs. The city is now leading the $3.5-million project and recommended keeping the project on that funding list.
After the project became controversial residents and property owners in the area, the city brought in an expert roundabout team from consulting firm MSA to review the design and make changes. The team, led by Mark Lenters, who lives in Atlanta, found a roundabout is the best solution for the intersection, but tweaked the BCID’s plan, which was done by POND & Company. The BCID is still a partner on the project.
Sally Silver, District 7 Councilmember Howard Shook’s policy analyst, has been leading the revamped process and said private meetings with stakeholders have led to many more people supporting the project. Some residents continued to believe the roundabout would make traffic worse, but officials hope outreach and education about how to use them will make it a success, they said at the meeting held at Wieuca Road Baptist Church. About 75 people attended.
The new plan would improve pedestrian safety by adding raised sidewalks; reconfigures the lanes and church access; and moves both directions of the bicycle lanes the east side of Wieuca Road instead of on either side.
Lenters said the roundabout would make the intersection more efficient, but it would remain congested in rush hour. Safety for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists would be improved by realigning the angled intersection and adding new crosswalks and bike lanes, he said. There would be four lanes on Wieuca Road north to Old Ivy Road, where it would shift back to two lanes and a traffic light would be added.
Another option to keep the intersection largely the same but realign the lanes was presented and is less expensive, but would not improve safety or be as efficient as the roundabout.
The intersection is surrounded by Wieuca Road Baptist Church, the Park Avenue condo tower, an apartment building and several other residences. There is also a small community park on the north side that was funded by the North Buckhead Civic Association.
Gordon Certain, the president of the NBCA, had many concerns about the last version of the roundabout, including that it would take some land from that park. The new iteration doesn’t touch it, and Certain said the new team has been more responsive to concerns.
“I’m feeling better. I feel like a number of concerns have been addressed,” he said. “Communication has been much better. They’re listening; they’re changing.”
A resident of a nearby condo building said she believes the roundabout will make traffic worse and is a “waste of money.” The roundabout won’t help if other nearby intersections remain backed up, she said.
“There is no problem with the intersection in off-peak hours, so why are we doing it?” Marjorie Kossoff said. “I think residents were just told this is going to happen.”
Another resident had similar concerns, saying that there are other problems in the area that need fixing instead and also feared this would not help traffic.
“This is the least worrisome intersection in my opinion,” the resident said. “I hope this is not a done deal.”
George Kossoff, who is married to Marjorie, said he is not personally worried about using the roundabout since he lived in Sydney, Australia, where they are popular, but isn’t sure other residents will be comfortable driving through it. George Kossoff is also concerned about the loss of an old Magnolia tree outside the church that would come down.
Teaching people how to use roundabouts was a major theme of the meeting, with several instructional boards around the room on topics like the need to choose the correct lane before entering the roundabout. Roundabouts are becoming more common in the U.S., but many still aren’t familiar with them and two-lane versions are even less common.
Silver said they’ll host education classes for people to learn how to use them and will coordinate with nearby city of Brookhaven officials to educate their residents.
Lenters showed several videos of successful roundabouts around the country in effort to convince residents they work in similarly busy and residential areas. An illustrated video also showed this roundabout working with simulated cars driving through at anticipated 2027 traffic levels. A scaled map also had toy cars to show how the intersection would work.
The project will next be bid out by the city for a company to create a full design, Silver said.