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Temporary roundabout debuts along Military Road

(Updated at 1:30 p.m.) There’s a new temporary traffic circle along Military Road aimed at improving safety where it intersects with Nelly Custis Drive.

Where there used to be a stop sign for traffic on northbound Military Road, the county has added paint lines, bollards and raised temporary curbs, and partially demolished a median. The work was completed Saturday, according to a spokesman with the Arlington Department of Environmental Services.

The one-lane roundabout at the intersection in the Donaldson Run neighborhood was completed after the county resurfaced Nelly Custis Drive as part of its annual street maintenance program.

“This pilot project, in conjunction with the Vision Zero transportation safety program, will test the effectiveness of a roundabout for improving pedestrian safety and reducing vehicle speeding at the intersection,” according to the county. “It will be in place for one year to allow data collection of real-world conditions, and since it’s temporary, it can be adjusted as needed or removed easily if it doesn’t work.”

The county will study traffic patterns to determine whether to keep the roundabout or install a lighted intersection, per a county webpage on the project.

“Military Road and Nelly Custis Drive intersection safety improvements will focus on driver yield rates, shortening crossing distances for people walking through the intersection, providing predictable turning movements [and] reducing vehicle speeding,” the website says.

Some neighbors are displeased with the new traffic configuration. An October newsletter from the Old Glebe Civic Association called the changes “unwanted.”

The civic association said it has repeatedly expressed its opposition to the potential project for four years, and it would like to see the old traffic pattern restored after the study.

“OGCA pledges continued opposition to the roundabout,” it said. “Other civic associations have concurred with OGCA that the project is overly expensive, will not improve traffic safety, and will unnecessarily slow movement along Military Road.”

Per DES data, about 11,000 vehicles pass through the intersection daily. In a presentation this summer, county staff said conversions to roundabouts reduce pedestrian crashes by 27%, and conversions from stop-controlled intersection reduce injury crashes by 82%.

But OGCA argues that crash data for the intersection doesn’t merit the change.

“In August, OGCA argued that the… construction cost was unjustified given little evidence of any safety concerns,” the newsletter continues. “Only three accidents have occurred over the past eight years (two involving bicycles) out of the approximately 32 million vehicles that passed through the intersection during that period. Our letter also said removal of the stop sign and bike lane increases danger for pedestrians — particularly school children during morning rush hour — and also for bicyclists.”

Bike lanes were converted to “sharrows,” or arrows reminding drivers to share the road with cyclists, per a planning document.

The Military Road and Nelly Custis Road intersection roundabout (via Arlington County)

This is the last of three intersections — including those at Marcey Road and 36th Road N. — to be changed as part of a project aimed at improving safety along Military Road.

“These intersections were identified in a 2004 Arterial Transportation Management Study that suggested several recommendations to improve safety for all modes of transportation in the Military Road corridor,” according to DES.

Some local residents said in public comments that they supported the roundabout.

“As 25-year residents who live one block from this intersection and who walk, ride bikes, commute, and use the ART bus, we believe that a safer solution is needed due to excessive speed; drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians; and increased traffic volume,” said one couple.

The county website says the key takeaways for traveling through a roundabout are:

  • Always yield to pedestrians and cyclists at the crosswalks
  • When entering the roundabout, yield to vehicles and cyclists inside the roundabout
  • Signal when exiting the roundabout

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