Since many team members were also residents of Roswell, they were familiar with the intersection and were eager to find a solution. “There are about four different ways I can go from the office to my house,” says Brian O’Connor, project engineer. “When I first started working at GS&P I would go through that intersection, but it got so bad at rush hour that I found another way.” According to O’Connor, the lack of left-turn lanes was a major issue. “You’d just sit and wait for people to make a left turn,” he says. And he wasn’t alone.
Team member Jay Bockisch, traffic engineer, says he also avoided the area because it wasn’t safe. “It was one of the top locations for crashes in the City. The City of Roswell wasn’t just looking for capacity improvements, they wanted to improve safety.”
Jody Braswell, project manager, explains that the team looked at several different alternatives. “Once we, the Roswell DOT and the City Council had a preferred solution for the project, we conducted a public information open house. At the meeting, the design team and council members had the opportunity to explain all the options including traditional intersection improvements with dedicated left- and right-turn lanes, and a four-legged roundabout. The team listened to input from participants and addressed their concerns. Very few people attended the public meeting and the team moved forward.” But not for long.
According to Bockisch, “When the City started the process of purchasing right-of-way, citizens approached the council complaining that they didn’t know anything about the new plan and wanted to know what was going on.” As a result of the opposition, Bockisch says the City felt it needed to go back to the public again and a second public open house was scheduled.
Sometime between the first and second meetings misinformation about the project was posted on a private website, which prompted the door-to-door circulation of a petition against the roundabout. “They had a list of things about roundabouts that were either completely incorrect or up for discussion,” Braswell says. More fuel was added when a local paper printed a scathing article against the roundabout. “It’s funny,” he says. “Very few people attended the first public open house, but after word got around, there were a couple hundred people at the second.”
The team admits it learned a few things after the first meeting. The second time around, Braswell says the City of Roswell asked them to develop renderings of the roundabout, and the City even created a new brochure, How to Navigate a Roundabout. “We also created an animation of what it would look like if you were driving through it. We all think that the graphics went a long way in helping to support the project.”
In addition, the City created a six-page document of roundabout questions and answers addressing all of the concerns raised in the petition. A two-page roundabout fact sheet to accompany the navigation brochure was also distributed. The documents were posted to the City’s website and hand delivered to 240 residences in the area. Through this process, the City was able to better inform and engage the public on the benefits of the project and the roundabout. “Not long after the second meeting, the incorrect information went away,” says Bockisch.
Originally, the team designed a four-legged roundabout. But residents adjacent to the intersection objected to the realignment of Melody Lane, so the concept was revised to accommodate Melody Lane within the roundabout.
The result was somewhat unique and a first for the team — a five-legged roundabout. “This was a very unique situation because there are very few intersections where five roads intersect, and therefore there aren’t many five-legged roundabouts,” Bockisch says. Resident skepticism continued, “but we were able to show them that roundabouts would do the most to improve safety because they do two things: they reduce speed through the intersection and they reduce the number of conflict points,” he explains. The number of conflict points are reduced simply because there are no left turns against oncoming traffic, a key contributor to accidents at traditional intersections.
Though the new solution was primarily focused on safety, aesthetics were also very important to the City of Roswell because of the close proximity to residential areas. The renderings and models demonstrated the aesthetic qualities of the project from the beginning, and Braswell adds that the City wouldn’t have been as excited about the roundabout if it was simply functional. “It was important to the City that it look as good as it performs. They wanted it to not only help traffic, but also improve the appearance of the community.”
There were a few compromises along the way. “When we first started looking at the area, we knew there would be some constraints that would be an issue – we had a big tree and a church on the opposite corner, and a house that was fairly close to it that belonged to an elderly woman,” says Bockisch. Plus, the original four-legged concept connected the roundabout via a large piece of property that held a lot of fruit trees.
So, they took another look. “To help ease the anxiety of the property owner and the neighborhood, we moved the connection that tied in south of the intersection so that it actually tied into the roundabout.” The area was small with about 20 houses, but Braswell explains that it was the best solution to improve safety in and out of the neighborhood, and also keep as many environmental elements intact as possible.
To minimize the impact to the fruit trees, the roundabout was centered slightly west of the original intersection. “We wanted to protect the large tree on the corner, so we made sure that we didn’t do anything that would damage it,” explains Sarah Worachek, project engineer. “We also added a landscaping plan to the center island to make it more aesthetically pleasing.”
Bockisch is very pleased with the outcome. “It turned out great. The original roundabout design was placed right on the center of the existing intersection, which would have taken out the tree and impacted more property. Instead, we slid the whole thing away from the tree and re-centered the entire roundabout based on that new location.”
The team is also very happy about the way they worked with the family of the elderly woman. According to Braswell, “The woman who lived there was 103 years old. When her son heard about the project he went to the local NBC news affiliate and talked about how bad it was going to be, and how it was going to impact her quality of life in her remaining years.” Braswell says that the City of Roswell talked to the family and agreed to purchase the house and allow the woman to stay in the home as long as she lived. “They also built a fence between the road and her house, and included landscaping with ferns and trees to shield them from traffic.”
A Lasting Impression
Some of the same design elements that make the roundabout aesthetically pleasing also contribute to its sustainability. Although not one of the original overarching goals, Bockisch says the Grimes Bridge project turned out to be very sustainable and environmentally friendly. “We were able to preserve natural resources, save trees and incorporate a water runoff drainage system. In addition, we made it neighborhood friendly by adding adequate sidewalks and a bike lane.” Bockisch is a regular blogger who focuses on sustainability innovations and initiatives, and points out that “Roswell has an official Complete Streets Policy that states that streets are for all modes of transportation, and are not just for vehicles.” The Complete Street concept continues to gain national attention for its goal to accommodate vehicles, bicycles, transit buses and pedestrians and public green space into transportation design.
Braswell is particularly proud of the roundabout’s sidewalk system. “Sidewalks connect pedestrians to other areas of the community,” he says. “There’s a church down the road and some shops and restaurants close by, and we tied them all together within walking distance.” Because the City is so tied to the community, he says the team is helping the City develop other sustainability ideas. “We’ve helped them see what they are already doing and worked to enhance it. For instance, they are very much a biking community, which is a big part of sustainability and the Complete Streets movement.”
In fact, Roswell’s mayor rides his bike to work, and the City has a big initiative to make its roads as pedestrian and biker friendly as possible. “We’ve actually already done five sidewalk projects and linked together sections of sidewalks that were missing before and repaired sidewalks throughout the City,” says Braswell. “Roswell even did some enhancements to a bridge by adding sidewalks and narrowing the median to make it more pedestrian friendly. They’re definitely doing what they can.”
Since its opening in June, the City has received overwhelmingly positive responses from the public. The success of this project has given the City the confidence to propose roundabouts at other locations throughout the City of Roswell, Fulton County and the state of Georgia.
There were many lessons learned that the team will carry over to future projects. “I continue to learn that people really don’t like drastic change,” Braswell says. “But, if you’re able to show them how it’s going to work, and elected officials have the courage to work with them, it can make all the difference.”
This project also demonstrates the importance of a comparative analysis. “Make sure that when we make changes, we have true buy-in from the community,” advises Bockisch. “We can’t just assume that because no one is at the meeting, they are all for it.”
For future projects involving community input, O’Connor recommends communicating directly with area residents. “We’ll at least suggest sending individual mailers to people living in close proximity to the project to get more people to come to the public open house so they can’t come back during the right-of-way phase and say they never heard anything about it.” O’Connor says that had he known about the retirement community down the road from the roundabout, the team would have reached out to them to make sure they were educated on the new intersection. “We had all those educational materials at the second public hearing, but not at the first. That’s the kind of thing we need to look at and incorporate early.”
The Best Part
The team agrees that the Grimes Bridge project has been gratifying on many levels. As residents, they’re happy to have a major problem solved. As professionals, it’s very fulfilling to actually be part of a solution that benefits so many. And they are especially proud to have had a hand in the first roundabout of its kind in the Roswell area.
For Worachek, the whole design was amazing. “This was the first project that I got to be the lead design engineer. The roundabout is very close to where I work and live, and I still use it multiple times every month. To lead the design and tell people I was part of it is really gratifying.”
Braswell is simply happy to have an easier and safer commute. “To hear and see the reactions of the citizens and council members after it was done, and to see how much of a 180 everybody did from being absolutely opposed to it early on, to thinking it was great afterwards, is truly great. I live in Roswell and also go through it pretty frequently — it’s good to see it working well at rush hour. I’m especially glad that we were able to set the model for future roundabouts all over the region and make it safer for the traveling public; including me.”