If you have gone for lunch, shopping or a bike ride in Emory Village in the past you would probably agree that the bones for a great urban village exist, but the automobile dominates the area. While there is a significant pedestrian presence stemming from the Village’s close proximity to Emory University and the Druid Hills Neighborhood, the walking environment is poor. A complicated 5-way signalized intersection and inadequately configured pedestrian crossings result in exasperating traffic congestion, frustrated pedestrians and numerous jaywalkers. In areas of the village where sidewalks do exist, the paths are narrow and riddled with excessive curb cuts.
But luckily for the residents, business owners and visitors to Emory Village, this will soon be changing.
But first, a little background.
Several years ago the village’s retail vitality was waning as constantly increasing traffic transformed North Decatur Road, the main street of the Village, into a high-volume barrier separating the University from the Village. Local business owners and residents knew a plan was needed, and in early 2000 a planning effort sponsored by the Urban Land Institute – Atlanta District Council, and the Georgia Tech Urban Design Studio was undertaken.
This collaborative sponsored four participatory design charrettes involving Village stakeholders that produced broad concepts for Village revitalization integrating the ideas of urban designers, traffic planners, economic development consultants, historic preservationists and, most importantly, the local stakeholders: community residents, University representatives, businesspeople and land owners.
The resulting plan, which envisioned a new mixed-use and highly pedestrian-oriented neighborhood, was grandfathered as an ARC Livable Centers Initiative (LCI) study in 2003. For a study to be grandfathered under ARC’s LCI program means the area’s independently completed study meets the stipulations of an LCI planning study, and is thereby approved as an LCI area that is eligible for implementation funding.
And now, after eight years in the making, one of the signature road improvement projects identified through the planning process is close to breaking ground. The Village received close to $2.5 Million in LCI implementation funds from ARC (and contributed a 20 percent match) to construct a roundabout at the 5-way intersection of North Decatur Road, Oxford Road and Dowman Drive – the main intersection in the Village. This project will also be the first roundabout funded through the LCI program.
Roundabouts, for those of you not very familiar with the term, are European-style traffic circles. Traffic circles have been used in the United States since the beginning of the 20th century, but their use was limited in the 1950s because the designs of that era were found to work neither efficiently nor safely. The “modern roundabout” was developed in the United Kingdom in the 1960s to address these problems.
Two key characteristics of UK’s modern roundabout (hereafter referred to just as roundabouts) include a requirement for entering traffic to yield to circulating traffic, and geometric constraints that slow entering vehicles. In other words, motorists merge onto a one-way road built around a landscaped circle instead of having to stop at a stop sign or wait for a light to change.
Roundabouts began being used in the United States in 1990 and are slowly gaining speed as a technique that can effectively alleviate traffic congestion and accidents, reduce automobile speeds, and improve congested and underperforming intersections. Research has shown that serious accidents and injuries have decreased significantly at intersections that have installed roundabouts. And because traffic does not sit idle at a roundabout, the elimination of idling automobiles reduces traffic emissions and pedestrian’s intake of fumes.
The North Decatur Road roundabout will significantly change the flow of traffic in the area, simultaneously improving the pedestrian environment. Accompanying the intersection realignment will be bikeways, new lighting, shade trees and new landscaping, and pedestrian crossings.
Business owners and residents of the area are looking forward to the intersection improvements, and have confidence the roundabout will help in improving the safety and functionality of the traffic system by slowing traffic and eliminating queues for traffic light changes. After all, this intersection improvement was chosen by these very stakeholders who participated in the planning process that culminated several years ago.
And while the concept may be foreign to many communities, causing residents to be weary of the change, the Druid Hills neighborhood is no stranger to the traffic calming device. The neighborhood’s “trainer roundabout” a couple of blocks away at the intersection of North Decatur and Lullwater successfully turned a dangerous intersection into a safe one. And supporters are hoping other metro communities will see the value and build roundabouts of their own.
An architectural rendering of the roundabout can be viewed here: http://www.druidhills.org/images/photos/sketch10-06_roundabout.jpg
Once construction is complete we will post before and after photographs.