Traffic circles considered for Five Points

Roundabouts proposed to make the district safer and reduce accidents, but there are those who say they wouldn’t work

nophillips@thestate.comJanuary 25, 2013 

Traffic makes it's way down Harden Street in the heart of Five Points.

— Columbia City Council is entertaining the idea of building traffic roundabouts in the heart of Five Points as a way to slow traffic and reduce accidents involving pedestrians.

A consultant told council’s public safety committee Thursday it would be difficult to build roundabouts in the two locations selected as potential sites, but he would be willing to study the idea and offer other ideas.

“A roundabout is great, but it has to be in the right location,” said John J. Funny, principal-in-charge of Grice Consulting Group.

Still, Councilman Moe Baddourah, who represents Five Points and is leading the charge for roundabouts, wants to move ahead with a full study of whether the idea is feasible. After the meeting, he said he would like council to pay for it, although no price tag for such a study has been named.

Baddourah raised the idea of roundabouts last summer after four pedestrians were struck by vehicles in three incidents within a month’s time. In those cases, two men, including one in a wheelchair, were killed, and two people were injured. Baddourah asked city public works and police officials to look into the possibility.

“It would not hurt to look at every idea and every aspect,” Baddourah said Thursday.

Funny gave a long presentation about roundabouts that included everything from their origin to their pros and cons. He also explained that roundabouts are not the same as traffic circles because they have different traffic flow rules and entrance designs.

The goal is to slow down traffic, but roundabouts do not always prove to be more safe for drivers and pedestrians, he said.

“That’s been a tossup,” Funny said. “Even in the industry we argue about it.”

Funny ran through multiple challenges to building a roundabout, and many of those exist in Five Points. Engineers have to consider whether there is enough space, whether the existing traffic lanes are in the correct position and examine underground utilities, historical designations and other nearby bottlenecks to traffic flow.

He described the intersection of Harden and Greene streets as a unique location. That’s where the landmark fountain sits and a place where people socialize at all hours of the day and night, especially on weekends. But it’s also the intersection where the three pedestrian accidents happened in May and June of last year.

The high number of pedestrians, the socializing and the mix of businesses, including their historical value, makes a “very complicated issue for a roundabout to fit in,” Funny said. “It’s a little challenging.”

As for the intersection where Devine and Harden streets and Santee Avenue come together, Funny said a roundabout would be a tight fit.

“Every corner has something there,” Funny said. “A roundabout probably won’t work there.”

Funny said he could conduct a more in-depth study of how to fit a roundabout into Five Points but he also suggested the city look at other options such as flashing lights, parking patrol cars in the area and expanding sidewalks. He did not provide any cost estimates, saying that would take a more in-depth study into what exactly would have to be done to fit a roundabout into Five Points.

Besides the logistical and financial challenges, council also would have to convince Five Points merchants and patrons that a roundabout is a good idea. That appears to be a difficult hurdle, too.

Merritt McHaffie, executive director of the Five Points Association, said her organization, which represents the area’s merchants, had not been fully briefed by city officials about the idea..

“The board members did, however, discuss the matter upon hearing about it and unanimously voted that they were not in favor of traffic circles in Five Points as a solution to safety or flood control issues on Harden Street,” McHaffie wrote in an email to The State.

View 5 Points traffic roundabouts in a larger map

Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.

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