Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Raleigh Roundabouts

While visiting Raleigh, North Carolina this past summer to visit friends we visited the campus area of North Carolina State University.  While walking around the campus area - in sweltering late-July heat - we came upon a couple of roundabouts.

The first was along Hillsborough Street as you first approach the campus from the east.

Here you can see the lay of the land and notice immediately that this is a very recent intervention.  We approached the intersection from the right-hand side of the image on the north sidewalk.

The roundabout in an urban setting presents a few problems.  One is that it requires the person on the sidewalk to go a significant distance out of their way - in the case of August, sweating in 99° heat while air-conditioned vehicles cruise by effortlessly.  

Another is that the pedestrian is required to cross a 2-lane (Pullen Road-whichruns north-south) twice.  Pullen Rd south of the roundabout is 4-lanes and north of the roundabout is 3-lanes.  The small pedestrian island in the south crosswalk would be good whether this intersection is a roundabout or conventional 4-way intersection with a traffic light.  Although if the intersection were as the north crosswalk appears, more akin to a 2-lane street, the roundabout does nothing but over-complicate the pedestrian crossing.

Along Hillsborourgh there simply are no crosswalks!  And to make certain no one crosses fences are put in place.  This move makes it clear that this space is primarily for cars and secondarily for people on foot.

The image above shows what the streetscape looks like from the human perspective.  The first thing is plainly obvious, it is in a word: massive.  Granted, in a car this is a breeze: well marked lanes, fewer points of car-to-car conflict, and most importantly no stop light.  But from a pedestrian or cyclists' perspective this is not necessarily a friendly scene: narrow sidewalks with a fence on one side and wall on the other, one is required to look in unfamiliar directions for traffic, the lack of stop light means there is no cross-walk light, and ultimately there are no bike lanes.  How such an apparently recent intervention was designed and constructed with no bike lanes near the city's major state university campus is mind-boggling!

A second, smaller roundabout, located just north of the aforementioned.

Roundabouts certainly have their place.  They reduce car-to-car points of conflict and keep traffic flowing.  Though I certainly question any claims that they are safer for pedestrians for the reasons pointed out above and believe that the place for roundabouts is simply not in an urban environment.

Incredibly enough not even a stone's throw from that roundabout wasteland is a nice local bar with sidewalk seating - a textbook example of pedestrian friendly streetscape.  So all was not lost: after traversing those roundabouts we found a table in the shade here, enjoyed a couple cool local beers and the famous North Carolina barbecue pork.