Roundabouts Needed to Improve Safety in Little Rock’s Hillcrest

There was another wreck at the corner of Kavanaugh & Van Buren last night.I don’t know the details and I hope no one was hurt. It happens more than you might realize.

not the greatest picture but it was cold & rainy

I live so near the intersection of Kavanaugh & Van Buren that I frequently watch people try and navigate the awkward three-way from my porch. Three-way (intersections) are always awkward. That’s particularly true for those with limited traffic signage.

For those traveling north toward Mount St. Mary’s & up Kavanaugh you have to watch closely for left-hand turns entering Hillcrest. Those turning left have to watch carefully for northbound travelers who may quickly turn right into the commercial district, often without signalling. Southbound travelers have to watch closely for those exiting the Hillcrest commercial district back onto Van Buren & then to Markham of Fair Park.

It’s a hot mess of indecision. I constantly see people incorrectly yield, speed through or change their minds midway. Add to that it’s a heavily trafficked pedestrian crossing for neighborhood walkers, dog walkers and general bar/restaurant patrons who have to guess what drivers are going to do. It’s a wonder there haven’t been more accidents. But there’s one thing that’d easily fix all of this confusion — a roundabout. Just take a look at the intersection and I suspect you’ll see why:

Three-way Y Intersection with a yield option for those turning left onto Kavanaugh but you speed through on past Mt. Saint Mary’s where there’s frequent pedestrian traffic consisting both of students & neighborhood pedestrians. It’s not as safe as it could or should be.

Let’s replace the three-way Y intersection with something like this

Adding a sign like this helps us confused Americans

Painting the lanes could be helpful as well. The below is a decent example though perhaps a few more arrows might be advantageous*

*I must acknowledge that there are two schools of thought on this — some think no paint provides improved maneuverability and some (including me) think the paint is necessary for Americans given our general fear & unfamiliarity with roundabouts.

I know Americans, particularly Southerners hate roundabouts (I can’t imagine how we’d freak out over traffic circles — larger & meant for more vehicles at higher rates of speed) but they both work & have their place (some would say Conway;) ). The three-way Y intersection at Kavanaugh & Van Buren is the appropriate place.

The design of roundabouts forces drivers to slow as they approach them, then limits drivers’ circulating and exit speed. It is difficult to pass through a well-designed roundabout above these design speeds. In addition to slow vehicle speeds, modern roundabouts require drivers to slow and select gaps in the circulating traffic before entering the roundabout at low speed. Roundabouts also increase intersection traffic capacity by 30 percent, with fewer delays, improve pedestrian safety and reduce pedestrian delays compared with signalized intersections.

Roundabouts reduce costs significantly through lower annual maintenance and life-cycle replacement costs, lower crash costs and reductions in delays and fuel use. They are particularly effective when used in a series. As a traffic circle is being installed on Fair Park near the Zoo & War Memorial, we have the beginnings of a series — or at least an echo or cap to usage in Little Rock neighborhoods.

Traffic Circle on Fair Park, near War Memorial Stadium. Still under construction.

Roundabouts aren’t much different than the spinning playground merry-go-round the roundaplay

We’ve been teaching how to merge since grade school.

While this is a heavier trafficked area it’s a pretty good example of a more efficient intersection

Beyond calming traffic, roundabouts can also add beauty to an area. Check out these options

Roundabout. A more modest approach in size vs. the traffic circle. This seems more appropriate for Hillcrest

Roundabout, smaller than the traffic circle on Fair Park

A city we might look to as a comparison is Carmel, Indiana which replaced almost all of their traffic lights with roundabouts. This led to an estimated 40% decrease in all accidents and 90% in fatal ones, saving $180,000 because of lower maintenance cost and several thousands of gallons of gas per roundabout per year

Carmel recently introduced their 100th roundabout with fireworks, live music & a drone fly-over. Can you imagine that in Little Rock, much less Arkansas — Conway excepted here ;) ?

According to a recent CityLab article Americans will encounter 1,118 intersections before the encounter a roundabout. 1,118:1 despite their proven enhanced safety compared with multiple stop intersections.

Finally, if you don’t believe me, believe the Mythbusters.