During the last decade, the city of Lynchburg has seen the construction of more than seven roundabouts, with more on the way, and residents have expressed concerns about navigating the growing trend.
“I don’t have a problem as long as people know how to use them,” said Rebecca Walker, a resident who lives on Indian Hill Road, near the site of a soon-to-be-installed roundabout at the intersection near the bridge. “If it’s something you aren’t familiar with, it can be confusing.”
The first roundabout came to Lynchburg in 2009 at the intersection of 5th and Federal streets.
Lynchburg City Planner Tom Martin said he was heavily involved in that project and a roundabout was recommended for a number of reasons.
Martin said the Virginia Department of Transportation recommends roundabouts, and in particular cases, they are better than a traditional traffic light, providing smooth and efficient traffic flow.
They also are found to be safer, Martin said, and reduce “T-bone type” vehicle crashes. Roundabouts reduce fatal injury and crashes as much as 75%, according to information provided on the city website, and when crashes do occur, they are generally less severe.
Roundabouts also provide environmental and aesthetic benefits, he said, with less time spent idling in your car and room for landscaping around and in the roundabouts.
“They do take a little bit of getting used to,” Martin said. But a rule of thumb is to simply look to your left, slow down and go through it smoothly.
Lynchburg City Engineer Lee Newland said most of the city roundabouts have gone in as part of larger city plans, or projects that have been in the works for a while.
Newland said he has seen a positive effect from the city’s roundabouts, and they haven’t had any real issues with the change.
His advice was simple: “Turn right.”
While Newland said the city does not have any specific numbers pertaining to accidents at roundabouts in Lynchburg, the Lynchburg Police Department statistics indicate there are few accidents at the intersection, with only one reportable traffic crash at the roundabout located at 5th and Federal streets in 2019, and two in 2018.
Officer Alex Lucy, who serves as a traffic officer with the LPD, said that overall, they have seen fewer crashes at the roundabout intersections than before the roundabouts were installed.
According to Lucy’s written statement provided by the LPD, all roundabouts are single-lane, and the traffic always is going to flow from the left, so drivers must always make sure it’s clear from their left. Drivers have to yield to traffic already in the roundabout, so they must wait until there is a clear space to pull out and understand vehicles that are in the roundabout do not have to stop to let them in.
The Virginia Department of Transportation also could not provide statistics of accident numbers at roundabouts in Lynchburg, since the city is independent of the counties within its jurisdiction.
VDOT Traffic Engineer Gerry Harter said many of their roundabouts in the counties are new, and they are waiting for enough time to pass in order to compile data that shows a trend.
However, since roundabouts were put in — specifically at the accident prone intersection of Village Highway and Spring Mill Road in Concord — Harter said they have seen a decrease in severe crashes.
Like Martin, he emphasized roundabouts eliminate “angle crashes,” where a car crashes with another at a perpendicular angle. When there are accidents at roundabouts, said Harter, they usually are lower speed, side swipe-type crashes, with low injury rates and less damage.
Roundabouts reduce angle crashes by 80 % to 90%, according to Harter.
The conversation surrounding roundabouts has been on residents’ minds, with a Facebook post voicing concerns about the roundabout off of Wards Road at the intersection of Atlanta Avenue and Badcock Place, near the Barnes & Noble, drawing hundreds of comments in response.
Forest resident Vaughn Arthur told The News & Advance on Thursday he does find roundabouts safer, provided the driver knows what they are doing.
“I think education is the key,” Arthur said. “People need to remember that it is a yield sign going into the roundabout.”
He said other confusing intersections in the city, like the four-way stop entering the Wards Crossing shopping center, could be better served by a roundabout.
The next roundabout slated to open in the Lynchburg area is at Indian Hill, with another potentially being considered by VDOT for the intersection of U.S. 15 and Virginia 133 in Farmville.
Sarah Honosky covers Appomattox and Campbell counties at The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5556.