Published on December 10th, 2017 |0
Proposal for Wieuca/Phipps roundabout draws some resident concerns
Safety concerns expressed by area residents over the intersection of Wieuca Road and Phipps Boulevard goes back as far as 2005, and now some have reservations about the proposed solution—a roundabout at the intersection of Wieuca Road and Phipps Boulevard.
In 2015, representatives from the North Buckhead Civic Association (NBCA) requested help from the Buckhead Community Improvement District (BCID) in finding solutions to residents’ concern over increased congestion due to new development and construction.
Meetings were held with stakeholders that included local residents, institutions/churches, and area businesses addressing ways to mitigate an ever-increasing growing and congested area.
As a result, a study was conducted by WSP/Parsons Brinckerhoff evaluating existing traffic conditions, developing possible alternatives for easing congestion and improve safety, while factoring in several major construction/development projects that added to already existing congestion.
Multiple high traffic-generating locations such as Phipps Plaza, Lenox Square, and the Park Avenue tower were also considered as adding to the growing problem.
Getting a better understanding of potential problems involved studying traffic patterns including traffic counts and signal timing focusing on seven intersections impacted, including Phipps Boulevard at Lenox and Alexander roads, and Longleaf Drive; and, on Wieuca Road at Old Ivy and Peachtree roads, Longleaf Drive, and Phipps
Gordon Certain, president of NBCA, explained “three proposals were initially considered by the stakeholders” and put up for a vote.
“One was to leave the intersection ‘as is’ with a few minor changes. The second was [to] reconfigure what we call the “slingshot lane” and to turn Wieuca into a 4-lane [roadway] north of the intersection. Option 3 was a 5-entrance roundabout,” Certain explained. “Options 1 & 2 were seen as accomplishing little…option 3 was seen as a concept worth further consideration.”
People made traffic congestion a top concern for North Buckhead. “We were optimistic with the roundabout proposal,” Certain said.
“As interesting as the initial presentation was, what we got was a conceptual plan with interesting pictures,” He explained. “The definitive information needed involved computer simulation results based on existing and anticipated future traffic volumes for a buildable intersection plan. That sort of data had to wait till later,” Certain said.
Once traffic data was provided concerns started to surface over having easy access to the Park Avenue Condominium tower, that vehicles may have a hard time getting through parts of the roundabout due to traffic congestion, worries the Peachtree/Wieuca intersection could gridlock the roundabout, and concerns over how pedestrians would be able to navigate the roundabout area.
BCID executive director Jim Durrett said, “The roundabout concept was initially proposed by concerned Buckhead residents” as a resolution to the problem. Roundabouts reduce the potential for vehicular collisions when compared to traditional intersections. Roundabouts also have a traffic calming effect by slowing down traffic while keeping the flow of traffic moving.”
In 2017, BCID, the City of Atlanta and the firm Pond & Company provided a traffic study and the conceptual design for the proposed Wieuca Road/Phipps Blvd. Roundabout that was presented to the public over the summer.
“The public is generally in support of the roundabout since the current intersection is so dangerous. Some members [of the community] have expressed concerns that it won’t work as expected,” Durrett added.
He believes the roundabout will reduce trafffic congestion and travel times on Phipps Blvd. and Wieuca Road during non-rush-hour times. And, once built, would create a safer road network
that would accommodate multiple modes of transportation.
However, Gordon Certain brought up a number of issues. Concerned that the significantly revised roundabout plan was done without the involvement of the original stakeholders or communications with the NBCA board, he believes the association could have helped.
“Our board members include five engineers, three former university professors, two with PhDs,” Certain said. “We found the new plan had some major problems.”
He noted that the data added morning rush hour traffic delays for residential drivers; it severely impacted Park Avenue Tower access; the plan proposed extensive taking of private land that could inevitably result in litigation and project completion delays; and, the traffic simulation did not consider construction next to the roundabout site.
Certain added, “The significant issue in doing anything at the Wieuca/Phipps intersection is the relatively small area available to make traffic improvements. Unlike many roundabout sites, the Wieuca/Phipps intersection is built out, constrained in all directions with existing land uses,” impacting a residential tower, a park, and a church parking lot.
Incorporated into the proposed conceptual design are crosswalks for pedestrians and joggers with rapid flashing beacons to warn drivers that a pedestrian is crossing. The design will also have a
bike facility in the form of protected bike lanes or a multi-use trail. Landscaping and streetscape elements will be added.
“While the intersection proposal could have been focused on vehicle transportation, many other objectives were interjected into the plan: bike lanes were added and improved sidewalks, some as much as 10 feet wide, were added,” Certain explained.
“Substantial takings of private land were included in the plan to provide land for these added uses. In some cases, these takings will be fought by the landowners. Losing their property affected the resale value of million dollar homes,” he added. “Similar problems involving access to Park Avenue condominiums will also likely lead to litigation.”
Certain mentioned that “federal policy has been to not approve roundabouts which require traffic signals to make them work properly. However, addition of traffic signals to make dysfunctional roundabouts work better is permitted,” he stated.
“I believe that a roundabout at Wieuca/Phipps will need traffic signals on Day One to make it work right,” Certain said. “Pond seemed to agree since their 2017 roundabout plan was to include the basic infrastructure for the signals during initial construction (but without the signals). Signals will probably be needed to provide acceptable delay reductions for North Buckhead residents, especially those at Park Avenue Condominiums,” he added.
NBCA administered an online questionnaire and opinion survey on the roundabout for local residents.
Results of the survey were compiled into the 2017 Wieuca Road/Phipps Blvd. Roundabout Survey Report. In the report, findings on opinions on the roundabout include 184 respondents with 34 percent “like it,” 22 percent “dislike it,” while 20 percent “like it but have some reservations”. The remaining: 12 percent “need to know more before I can say,” 7 percent “dislike it but it may be fixable,” and 5 percent were not sure and 1percent didn’t want to say.
Some questions posed by members of the community include: “Will the roundabout consume more area than the existing intersection?” or “What sort of computer modeling has been done to simulate conditions between 4:30-6:30PM daily?—How much improvement will the new arrangement provide over the current road structure?”
With somewhat mixed views about the roundabout and still in the conceptual design phase, residents are cautiously optimistic that the roundabout continues to be the best alternative for the area.
Following the completion of the final conceptual design, the other phases of the roundabout include the preliminary design, right-of-way acquisition, final design, and construction. Thus far, there is no scheduled construction date.
BCID estimates construction will be in 2019 at a preliminary construction cost estimate of $3 million.