Has Avondale’s roundabout hit a dead end?
By Jill Nolin, contributor
Learning to yield to the traffic in the circle might be the least of Avondale Estates’ worries when it comes to a proposed roundabout at the intersection of U.S. Highway 278 and Clarendon Avenue.
Nelson\Nygaard, the firm conducting a feasibility study on the possible designs for Highway 278, presented several options at City Hall Saturday before leading a live demonstration outside.
Teams of residents used surveyor flags to illustrate how far the roundabout would cut into park space. Orange cones outlined what a thinner 278 would look like. Washable white paint indicated where additional parking spaces would be. And shipping crates became temporary sidewalk extensions supporting tables and potted trees. It was gone by the end of the day.
Other than a “road diet,” which would reduce the five-lane road, no specific design has been pitched. But it was clear Saturday that the proposed roundabout faced a difficult journey if the city were to commit to it.
The roundabout was first born out of a walkability study and then incorporated into the downtown master plan, which was finalized earlier this year. A $62,500 feasibility study has delved more deeply into possible designs and implications.
That closer look has uncovered significant issues that could increase the cost of the project and slow down the project, said Joel Mann, a transportation planner with Nelson\Nygaard. The roundabout could also create headaches for those trying to enter the circle from Clarendon.
The group has not presented its official findings yet – that will come next year – but Mann did indicate Saturday that the outlook wasn’t so promising for a roundabout.
Mann did present several roundabout options, with a large 150-foot, two-lane roundabout considered best suited for the intersection if it is approved. However, that large roundabout would also cut into the park area, which was part of the original design of the city and, therefore, in the protected historic district.
City Planner Keri Stevens told Decaturish that including the roundabout would complicate the application process for funding, but it wouldn’t necessarily jeopardize potential funding. The planning staff will not make a recommendation until the findings of the feasibility study have been presented.
Luellen Marshall, owner of The Bishop, treated volunteers to free cider on Saturday. Marshall said she supports the enhancements because it would improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists. She does not believe the historic status of the park should derail the roundabout plan.
“I think the preservation is still intact … we’ve got to progress to the next level while maintaining our historical heritage, absolutely. I don’t think it’s going to totally eradicate the historical presence of this neighborhood,” Marshall said.
Lisa Shaw, a resident who lives near the Clarendon intersection, said she hopes the discussion will bring a renewed interest in what was once a popular park. And while she favors a roundabout, she said she believes the other enhancements can accomplish just as much good without the expense.
Since there’s no proposed design, there is no estimated cost. But City Manager Clai Brown said a roundabout project could cost $2 million or more. That figure is based on the Emory Village roundabout, he said.
Highway 278 was expanded to five lanes in the 1950s, and Mann said the traffic volume has not lived up to earlier projections. A road diet might add about two minutes to a commute.
“The benefit of doing that is you get all of that space back,” Mann said. “That’s 20, 22 feet of the road that can be returned back to other things, such as bike lanes, sidewalks and streetscapes.
“The question … is two minutes a fair tradeoff for getting a three-lane street that gives a wider sidewalk, that gives you streetscape that has safer crossings — is that something you can live with?”
Once this stretch of downtown is redesigned, it will become a more welcoming place for pedestrians and allow for more events like Friday’s sold-out Wine Stroll, Brown said.
“This is really exciting times. Our city is alive. It’s awake. And it’s going to continue. Just look at all the new businesses,” Brown said.
But what about that roundabout? One resident asked what would be done to educate the community on how to navigate one. She noted that roundabouts are a foreign concept for most southerners.
“I’m a southerner and I don’t really understand roundabouts. …,” resident Stacy Reynolds said. “But I think they’re the way of the future and I think they’re necessary to improve.”
Kathy Cavallaro, a resident who is fond of roundabouts but who does not support this particular one, said, “It’s not rocket science. It doesn’t take long to figure out.”