In DFW, rounding off the edges for smoother traffic flow

Posted Saturday, Jun. 14, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Lisa Wynne wasn’t looking forward to driving on any of the four roundabouts recently built in her Kennedale neighborhood. Like many drivers, she found the experience with larger traffic circles in other cities stressful.

“I often ended up in the wrong lane and went around twice,” she said.

But she was pleasantly surprised when Kennedale finished the road work. After a couple of trips through the new roundabouts, which feature a single, one-way lane moving traffic counterclockwise, she said they were easy to use and nicely landscaped.

North Texas cities are in the midst of a roundabout boom. At more than a dozen intersections in Kennedale, Colleyville, Southlake, Trophy Club and other cities, four-way stop signs have been replaced. Traffic is being routed onto a single, one-way lane around a circular median, with only yield signs at each entry point.

“After using them every day, I’ve come to appreciate how much easier it is to get through those intersections,” Wynne said.

Many more roundabouts are either under construction or planned. In Fort Worth, six are either planned or were recently completed.

Traffic planners say roundabouts are often better than four-way stops and work especially well in residential or light commercial areas. Those that have a raised circular median can dramatically reduce the possibility of head-on and side-impact crashes, said Chad McKeown, a planner with the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

“Safety is the real benefit,” McKeown said. “They reduce so many locations for crashes.”

Roundabouts have been proved to reduce fatalities in intersection crashes by 90 percent and have reduced crashes overall by 35 percent, according to the Transportation Research Board. The accidents that occur at roundabouts are often at lower speeds and involve contact with car fenders, the research shows.

Roundabouts also improve travel times. Southlake officials found that after they opened one at Continental Boulevard and Carroll Avenue several years ago, the typical time for traveling through the intersection was reduced to about 16 seconds in the roundabout, compared with as much as five minutes during rush hour when it was a four-way stop.

•  Interactive: Roundabouts in North Texas

Southlake set aside $2.3 millon to build three roundabouts, including several that feature public art in the median.

“It just helps keep everyone moving along,” said Holly Taylor, who works at the front desk of a dental office at 1121 S. Carroll Ave. The patients can watch the Southlake roundabout while getting their teeth cleaned. Taylor recalls witnessing a near-accident only once in the past four years.

“You can always tell when there’s a newbie, and they aren’t sure how to drive in it,” she said. “But most people are patient with them.”

Aesthetic appeal is another benefit motorists mention. Public art can turn an ordinary intersection into a neighborhood improvement.

For example, a roundabout at Kennedale Sublett Road and Wildcat Way features a decorative wall with a quotation from Gandhi: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

In many instances, roundabouts can also operate without traffic signals, making them a greener alternative to the traditional intersection and less confusing to use during power failures.

In Fort Worth’s century-old Ryan Place neighborhood south of downtown, three roundabouts were installed in 2012 along Elizabeth Boulevard.

“At first I considered it a nuisance, but I think that was only because it was change and I’m comfortable with [the] familiar,” Marie Endacott, a Fort Worth school district administrative assistant, said in an email. “Now that I have used it on a daily basis, it is routine and it has slowed traffic, which I believe was the intent.”

Still, many drivers are not sold on roundabouts, often because they don’t like the way Metroplex motorists behave in them.

Gary Sutton of Hurst uses roundabouts in Southlake and Colleyville regularly. A few years ago he was involved in a fender-bender going through one at White Chapel Road and Continental Boulevard in Southlake.

He captured video of the fender-bender with a camera attached to his windshield visor, and put the footage on YouTube.

Sutton often records motorists’ behaviors in the smaller traffic circles. The most common problem, he says, is that drivers entering a roundabout don’t look to the left before proceeding.

“They approach them too fast and many times I see drivers on their phones and it appears they are not looking properly for traffic inside the roundabout,” Sutton said. “I have a close call a few times a week with near hits from failure to yield of other drivers.”

Fort Worth roundabouts

Fort Worth officials are pursing roundabouts aggressively.

The city has had its share of larger, old-fashioned traffic circles, and many drivers didn’t like them because of their multiple, confusing layers of lanes. Examples include the large Weatherford Traffic Circle at Camp Bowie Boulevard and Southwest Boulevard (Texas 183), and Bluebonnet Circle on the south end of University Drive.

Modern roundabouts with fewer lanes are a different story.

One recently opened at Summer Creek Drive and McPherson Boulevard, near the new Chisholm Trail Parkway toll road in southwest Fort Worth. Two are being built on East Rosedale Street, one at Mitchell Boulevard, the other at South Ayers Avenue.

Another is planned at Henderson Street and White Settlement Road, as part of the Panther Island redevelopment project north of downtown.

In north Fort Worth, a pair of roundabouts is being built on either side of the new North Riverside Drive bridge, which is under construction on both sides of North Loop 820, near the city’s Mercantile industrial area. One roundabout will be at North Riverside Drive’s intersection with Northern Cross Boulevard, the other at Fossil Creek Boulevard.

The city staff strongly favors roundabouts and included them in the design from the beginning of the North Riverside Drive project, said Councilman Danny Scarth, whose district includes the area.

“I guess they already had roundabout sketches by the time it went to the public,” Scarth said. “We had a couple of meetings, and they showed big blowups of them.”

The new North Riverside Drive configuration, with a bridge over North Loop 820 and a roundabout on each side, will make it easier for residents to get to and from their jobs in the industrial area, Scarth said.

“There are a lot of employees in there — 5,000 to 8,000 folks. A fair number of them live north of Loop 820, and that will help them get home.”

Overall, Scarth said he thinks it would be worthwhile to have a City Council discussion about the widespread use of roundabouts.

“We’re building several of them at a time without having a real opportunity to try them out and make sure everybody likes them,” Scarth said. “We’ll roll out three or four of them at the same time, and I hope they work.”

But others said they hope Fort Worth and other cities continue to build roundabouts aggressively.

“Any driver who has experienced frustration at having to stop for red signs and signals when no other traffic is present can appreciate the advantages that well-built roundabouts provide,” said RD Milhollin of Haltom City.

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796 Twitter: @gdickson

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