“I think a roundabout could be well designed and engineered at this intersection, and provide for continuous movement of traffic, not only for McIntire Plaza but for Harris Street,” said Keith Woodard.
The City Council recently approved a $44,836 study to examine the feasibility of such a roundabout.
The engineering firm Rummel, Klepper and Kahl will be paid to conduct the study, which will be reviewed by the council in February.
RK&K also designed the Meadow Creek Parkway interchange, which will include pedestrian access to McIntire Park on both sides of McIntire Road when completed next summer.
“We feel like they are the most appropriate firm to do it because they have all the traffic counts and all the modeling they’ve done in association with the interchange,” said Jim Tolbert, the city’s director of neighborhood development services.
The study will produce four alternatives for how a roundabout might work. One of the alternatives will be loosely based on a sketch developed by Woodard, whose company owns and operates the McIntire Plaza mixed-use complex.
Woodard said he was inspired by an appearance in May by Ian Lockwood, a walkability expert who works for the Toole Design Group. That company is currently working with Charlottesville to develop a plan to improve the city’s streets for pedestrians and cyclists.
“As Ian Lockwood explained, having all traffic slow down as it approaches the intersection — rather than speed up to beat the light — makes a roundabout much safer for vehicles, as well as pedestrians,” Woodard said in an email.
Before voting to approve the study, Councilor Kristin Szakos said she wanted to make sure the study also would consider the effects on pedestrians.
“When I look at roundabouts, I love them as a driver [but] the ones that I’ve experienced on the ground, if there’s a lot of traffic, I find them more difficult as a pedestrian,” Szakos said. She added that the interchange was designed specifically to enhance sidewalk and bike lane connections to McIntire Park.
“I want to make sure that we don’t sacrifice that in the name of moving traffic,” Szakos said.
Tolbert said modern roundabout designs can be safer for pedestrians.
“The old traditional roundabout, which was a circle, did destroy every bit of bike and pedestrian ability to move,” Tolbert said. “There are new techniques.”
There currently is only one roundabout in the city, and it’s on a neighborhood street in north downtown and not on a major arterial road.
There are 10 roundabouts in Albemarle County. Three are in the Hollymead Town Center, three are in the Old Trail development and two are in Forest Lakes-Hollymead. The other two are on Earlysville and Dickerson roads near the Charlottesville Albemarle Airport.
The roundabout at Dickerson and Airport roads opened in 2004 and has resulted in an 85 percent reduction in crashes and a 100 percent reduction in injuries.
“For the 10 years since completion, there were six crashes, none of which involved a serious injury,” said Stacy Londry, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Culpeper District, which includes the Charlottesville area. “For the 10 years prior, 1993 to 2003, there were 41 crashes, 14 of which involved a serious injury.”
Similar reductions have been experienced at the roundabout at Dickerson and Earlysville Road, which opened in 2008.
Neither roundabout is located in a significant pedestrian environment.
Walkability expert Jeff Speck, who spoke in Charlottesville in early September, said that roundabouts can cause pedestrians to have to walk farther to get through intersections. He said roundabouts are not appropriate in all locations, particularly when a traffic signal could be replaced with stop signs, as he suggested would work on some streets near the Downtown Mall.
“A roundabout is a good way to intersect two streets in an automotive environment, but they’re not really pedestrian environments,” Speck said. He said the safest intersection for pedestrians is a four-way stop.
“At a four-way stop, everyone has to make eye contact and the pedestrian rules,” he said.
About 20,000 vehicles are estimated to use the McIntire-Harris intersection every day, according to VDOT.
Woodard suggested that pedestrian crossings could be made elsewhere along McIntire Road, which runs parallel to the developing Schenks Branch Greenway.
“One of the key considerations is the downstream effects that a roundabout at this location would have, particularly at the [Meadow Creek Parkway] interchange,” Tolbert said.
In 2008, a steering committee that oversaw design of the interchange endorsed a large oval roundabout as its preferred method to link U.S. 250 with the parkway and McIntire Road. However, the council chose instead to go with the two diamond traffic signals, but also pushed for increased pedestrian and bike access to the park from downtown.
Pattie Boden, owner of the Animal Connection in McIntire Plaza, said she wishes a roundabout already had been installed at McIntire Road and Harris Street. She said she would prefer that to an extended sidewalk that she says makes it more difficult for vehicles to access the plaza.
“The big issue with the McIntire intersection as it is now is the concrete jutting out into the turn that goes into our shopping center,” Boden said in an email. “[There is] total disregard for the vehicles coming into our shopping centers, including essential delivery trucks.”
VDOT also is currently building a $3.3 million roundabout at intersection of U.S 15/29 and Route 299 in the town of Culpeper.
There are no other plans for new roundabouts in Albemarle County.