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Charleston County proposes roundabouts

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Roundabouts proposed to facilitate traffic flow

BY JESSICA VANEGEREN Of The Post and Courier Staff

A roundabout is not just a traffic circle by another name.

The latest traffic innovation is smaller, safer and prettier than the traffic circles of old that made drivers' heads spin.

Roundabouts have been growing in popularity in the area since the first one was built in Mount Pleasant nearly five years ago at the entrance to I'On on Mathis Ferry Road. There are now five new roundabout locations under consideration in Charleston County.

"Once you get the first couple of roundabouts in place and people start driving on them, they usually start asking for them," said Michael Wallwork, president of Alternate Street Design in Orange Park, Fla. His company has designed roundabouts for the past 25 years.

"An area quickly will go from having one or two to many," Wallwork said.

Familiarizing drivers with the difference between a roundabout and a traffic circle is all it takes to erase the negative memories some have of driving around the poorly designed traffic circles commonly found in the North, he said.

"People remember those old traffic circles and they react with resistance when they hear a roundabout may be built in their community," Wallwork said.

So what's the difference between round and a roundabout? A roundabout has a diameter no wider than 200 feet. A traffic circle, such as Park Circle in North Charleston, has a diameter nearly double that size.

The roundabout's smaller diameter has a calming effect on traffic by forcing motorists to drive no more than 25 mph, Wallwork said. This makes roundabouts safer than a traffic circle.

"If more than one or two accidents a year are occurring on a roundabout, you have a problem," he said. "You have a serious problem if you are having injury crashes."

Mount Pleasant traffic engineers have opted to add three more roundabouts, increasing the number in the area to six. Construction begins on a new roundabout at the intersection of Mathis Ferry and Muirhead roads this summer. Two more, one at the intersection of Rifle Range and Porchers Bluff roads and one at Rifle Range and Six Mile roads, are in the design phase. Construction begins in summer 2005.

"They provide the same level of service as turn lanes and traffic signals," said Paul Lykin, a Mount Pleasant traffic engineer. "At the same time, they reduce the severity of accidents. If there is an accident, it will likely just be a fender-bender."

A $4.2 million roundabout planned near Kiawah and Seabrook islands is the county's largest at 200 feet in diameter. It will have four entry points, one each from Betsy Kerrison, Seabrook Island and Kiawah Island parkways. The fourth entrance point will provide direct access to Freshfields, a 175,000-square-foot commercial center.

"Everything is bigger on Kiawah," said Bill Wert, the town's mayor.

The project includes two one-way roads, one for drivers heading from Kiawah to Betsy Kerrison Parkway and one from Betsy Kerrison Parkway to Seabrook, to further streamline traffic around the roundabout.

If Charleston County voters approve a half-cent sales tax increase in November, a roundabout may be built in the city of Charleston.

Conceptual plans for a roundabout at the intersection of Folly Road and Maybank Highway is at the top of the city's priority list if sales tax money is made available, said Hernan Pena, director of the city's traffic and transportation department.

"We know for a fact that something has to be done at that intersection," Pena said. "The circular concept seems to provide a way to handle the traffic and a way to enhance the entryway onto the (James) island from the city."

Charleston also is hoping that sales-tax money would be available for a proposed circular traffic pattern at the intersection of Bees Ferry Road and Glenn McConnell Parkway in West Ashley.

Though not a traffic circle or roundabout by design or function, the proposed $7 million project -- dubbed the West Ashley Circle -- would create a ring around the intersection and would be the starting point for expansion of the Glenn McConnell Parkway toward the Charleston-Dorchester county line. A quarter of the circular pattern is being built by Wal-Mart to provide direct access to its new Super Wal-Mart location. Construction of the store begins later this year.

"This is by no means like the ones (roundabouts) you see in Mount Pleasant," Pena said.

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You know, I was reading just last week that they are proposing to create all roundabouts at the intersections on US 17 in Mt. Pleasant. They want to avoid creating bypasses because it would lose the "town" feel, but I think roundabouts would worsen the traffic situation on that highway.

Although I understand the reason that they want to avoid by-passes, I think that would really help the traffic flow through the city especially after the new bridge opens up. Of course, that might worsen traffic on the entry and exit roads...

Must...make...brain...come up with...better....idea.... :wacko:

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This is why mass transit exists. Charleston needs to build its LRT and get into the 21st century as best it can :)

Roundabouts are proven to increase traffic flow. We just aren't used to them. Its all they have in Europe, and they work very well.

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