BY SOPHIE GORMAN ORIANI
At its Feb. 7 meeting, the Hyattsville City Council considered a proposal to earmark $50,000 for a concept design and final plan for a roundabout to better manage traffic near the main entrance to David C. Driskell Community Park.
The current intersection at the park’s entrance, which residents have nicknamed the octopus, is the five-way intersection where 40th Avenue, Gallatin Street and Hamilton Street come together. The 2018 Hyattsville Transportation Study listed installing a roundabout at this intersection as one of the 20 highest priority projects for the city.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), roundabouts are safer than traditional signaled intersections and better for the environment. Serious crashes are less likely in a roundabout because drivers travel at lower speeds. Head-on collisions are less likely, too, since all the cars are traveling in the same direction. Roundabouts also reduce idling time, which decreases pollution.
A resident opposing the proposed roundabout posted to the HOPE (Hyattsville Organization for a Positive Environment) email group, sparking a 57-comment thread. Some commenters thought the price tag was too high, while others were concerned that a roundabout might be more dangerous for pedestrians, especially those who are visually impaired. Many others supported the idea of a roundabout, citing the IIHS data.
While the terms “roundabout” and “traffic circle” are used interchangeably in regular speech, the IIHS distinguishes a roundabout from a traffic circle or rotary. According to the IIHS, traffic moves around a roundabout at a slower speed than it does around a traffic circle, due to the roundabout’s smaller size. Also, vehicles entering a roundabout are always supposed to yield to circulating traffic, whereas some traffic circles have lights to regulate vehicles and allow access to specific streams of traffic.
At the Feb. 7 council meeting, more than half a dozen residents spoke about the proposed changes. “I am adamantly opposed to a roundabout in that location,” said Nina Faye, saying that her experience of roundabouts in Takoma Park has been negative. Melissa Schweisguth also questioned if a roundabout is necessary, based on the crash data for the intersection.
Other residents supported the proposal. “This is a fantastic idea to redesign a problematic intersection,” Yohannes Bennehoff said. Cliff Mayo agreed, adding that “while the data don’t show a large number of collisions, in my opinion that is only because we’ve been lucky.”
“It’s a topic that I think there’s a lot of passion about,” said Councilmember Danny Schaible (Ward 2), who sponsored the budget initiative. Councilmembers Ben Simasek (Ward 3) and Edouard Haba (Ward 4) suggested expanding the motion to study alternatives to the proposed roundabout, as well.
Although the motion was not up for a vote during the Feb. 7 meeting, councilmembers generally agreed that a study of the intersection was warranted. “I don’t want to wait until we see a serious injury or fatality,” said Councilmember Joanne Waszczak (Ward 1).