The City of Fort Worth is all for roundabouts - motorists, not so much
Fort Worth motorists have a hate-love relationship with roundabouts.
Put to use in earnest in the past five years along dozens of Fort Worth streets, roundabouts continue to evoke great passion in neighborhoods that fear they're coming. But once they're in, residents say they've worked.
Rusty Fuller, president of the North Fort Worth Alliance, a group of more than two dozen neighborhood associations in north Fort Worth, chuckles when asked if he fields complaints about roundabouts. The bulk of the city's 28 "modern" roundabouts are in north Fort Worth.
"Once in a great while we hear comments about them. People up here are pretty used to them now," Fuller said. "They're the most enigmatic traffic control device I have ever seen or heard of in my years. People hate them before they're in. People don't comment after they're in."
"Let me tell you that when people understand them, they are tremendously better than four-way stops," Fuller said.
At Bonds Ranch Road and U.S. 287, when the city wanted to put in roundabouts to ease the long backup of cars at that intersection the Texas Department of Transportation said it wasn't a good idea, said District 7 Councilman Dennis Shingleton. Instead, TxDOT put in flashing red lights and when those didn't work, traffic signals were installed, he said.
"If I had one phone call, I had 200" from upset motorists, Shingleton said. When the roundabouts went in a year ago, the complaining stopped, he said.
"People are beginning to realize there is some value to these," said Shingleton, whose district has the most roundabouts. "I'm sure there are people who get confused sometimes on how best to maneuver them. Once you do it once or twice, it's a piece of cake."
City policy requires roundabouts to be used at new and upgraded intersections that might otherwise call for a four-way stop, says Douglas Wiersig, the city's transportation and public works director.
There's fewer accidents at roundabouts and they save money because they don't require traffic signals, Wiersig said. They also handle more vehicles and at a faster pace, he said.
"We reduce our costs from the city's perspective because they're more sustainable," Wiersig said. "What happens with a roundabout, all traffic doesn't come to a stop. When you have a traffic signal and the light turns green, the cars go. In a roundabout, the cars are spaced out a little bit, but always moving."
The bigger savings come to the motorists, he said. Not only does air quality improve when vehicles are kept moving, drivers save on fuel by eliminating the many stops and starts they encounter along some of the city's more congested thoroughfares, Wiersig said.
"If we see the need for higher traffic control than just a stop sign at the side street, we're designing for a roundabout," Wiersig said.
One of those is Harmon Road between U.S. 287 and Golden Triangle Boulevard. Roundabouts already exist on the north and south service roads, but others are now planned for Harmon Road north of U.S. 287 at Presidio Vista Drive, Heritage Trace Parkway and Golden Triangle Boulevard.
Engineered to reduce traffic congestion, roundabouts are one-way circular intersections that flow counterclockwise. Motorists enter the roundabout when there is a gap. Head-on and left-turn crashes don't happen at roundabouts. Traffic accidents are reduced by as much as 40 percent at roundabouts and injury accidents by 75 percent, the city says, citing industry data.
Fort Worth has 28 modern roundabouts, or those built in the past five or so years.
In 2017, 49 accidents were recorded at 14 of those roundabouts, a Star-Telegram review of accident reports finds. Fort Worth police say the number is low when compared to the overall number of accidents.
The most roundabout accidents last year, 11, happened at North Riverside Drive and Northern Cross Boulevard, an intersection that was reconstructed into a multi-lane roundabout in 2014 at a cost of $2.9 million.
That second-most accidents, eight, happened at the roundabout at North Riverside Drive and Fossil Creek Boulevard, and, five accidents occurred at Heritage Trace and Tehama Ridge parkways. The total number of accidents at those three roundabouts accounts for half of all the accidents in roundabouts in 2017.
Reviewing some of the accident reports shows most happen when at least one of the drivers tries to exit the roundabout from the wrong lane or doesn't yield to the right-of-way of drivers already in the roundabout.
Some are one-car crashes. In a 1 a.m. accident in June 2017 at the roundabout at Rosedale Street and Mitchell Boulevard on the city's east side, the driver came up on the roundabout and tried to go through it. He collided with a light pole nearby, the report says.
"Roundabouts are slowly becoming more prevalent," Fort Worth Police Sgt. C.A. Gorrie said in an email response to questions. "As more are installed to ease congestion, motorists will become more comfortable with them and learn to navigate them more safely and effectively."
The top two accident prone roundabouts are in District 4 Councilman Cary Moon's district. He said motorists are apprehensive until they see how roundabouts work.
"It's just a busy street," Moon said of North Riverside Drive. "That probably ties more into why there's more accidents there, rather than the design of the things. The challenge is educating the driver. Overall, I'm a fan of them at the right intersection."
Roundabouts in the works
And more will come. In the upcoming $399.5 million bond election May 5, 18 roundabouts are included in planned road projects, primarily in north Fort Worth where most of the city's growth is taking place.
District 2 Councilman Carlos Flores, whose district stretches to north Fort Worth and has the second largest number of roundabouts, said he hasn't fielded any complaints since being elected a year ago. He agrees that drivers get a little anxious about using them.
"They're quick on the throttle to get in and then suddenly they slow down when another person is doing the same thing," Flores said. "They're not sure how to act."
A roundabout proposed at Briarhaven Road, where the water rushes across Bellaire Drive, has residents in the Overton Woods neighborhood steaming, so much so they've formed a special committee to address their concerns with the city.
Craig Barbolla, president of the Overton Woods Homeowners Association, at the end of February sent a letter to city leaders asking them to delay the project to make sure "all potential alternatives" are reviewed before construction begins. The road construction is being done because the city needs to fix drainage issues.
And as part of city policy, the road will be rebuilt using roundabouts and is where the storm water will be collected. Initially, plans called to put in four along Bellaire Drive, but that has been reduced to one because of costs.
The alternative residents are looking for should include a "roundabout-free solution," the letter states.
Barbolla said the city has known about the stormwater drainage issue for at least a decade and that the neighborhood has never been shown roundabout-free options to fix that.
"The roundabout does not provide protection for all residents from a 100-year storm event," Barbolla said. "We have been told a roundabout will cost $1.5 million. However, some question whether the $1.5 million could be used to provide as much storm protection for all residents as possible."
Lee Rodegerdts, with Portland-based transportation engineering firm Kittelson & Associates, recognized internationally for his expertise on roundabouts, said Fort Worth's reaction to roundabouts is not unlike reaction residents have in other cities.
"There's some resistance to them at first," Rodegerdts said. "After that they either accept them or like them. Sometimes a roundabout goes in and it doesn't operate as well as everybody wants it to. Those are more the exception than the rule."
Motorists shouldn't fear roundabouts and the only way to get over that is to go drive one for themselves, he said.
"That should get easier in Fort Worth," Rodegerdts said. "If they can fit ... their safety record is most impressive. That's held true nationally and it's held true worldwide."
Sandra Baker: 817-390-7727, @SandraBakerFWST