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Arlington is collecting feedback on Military Road roundabout while considering next step

A temporary roundabout on Military Road (staff photo)

A temporary roundabout along Military Road has garnered strong feelings as a deadline for community feedback nears.

The pilot project at Military Road and Nelly Custis Drive launched in October, with bollards in place to direct traffic around the center, and has reduced speeds on all approaches, according to data the county recently released. Benefits to pedestrians are less clear, as vehicle rates were varied and there were small sample sizes for pedestrian crossings.

The data collected on the roundabout’s use will be considered, as well as community feedback — which is being collected through this coming Monday, June 6 — when the county decides in October whether to make the roundabout permanent or to configure an intersection with a stop light instead.

A preliminary mock-up of a signal at the Nelly Custis and Military Road intersection (via Arlington County)

More than 100 comments flooded a Nextdoor post that outlined takeaways from a community meeting last month on the pilot.

“By my observation, all but one or two of the citizens present were opposed to the roundabout at the intersection of Military Road and Nelly Custis Drive,” one user wrote about a recent meeting on the roundabout. “The bottom line is that the County is dead set on ‘re-engineering’ that intersection. Returning the intersection to the way it was for 50+ years was not even contemplated, and it either will have a permanent roundabout or a three-way traffic signal.”

Another resident said “this roundabout is absolutely a solution looking for a problem.”

But other posters — especially those who use the roundabout as pedestrians and cyclists — expressed support, stating that the roundabout “is both more efficient and safer, for cars and for pedestrians.”

The Nelly Custis Drive intersection was identified in the county’s Vision Zero action plan as a location for improvements to increase safety for pedestrians and bicyclists. The roundabout is supposed to increase allow more vehicle traffic, shorten crossing distances for people walking through the intersection, provide predictable turning movements and reduce vehicle speeding.

“Our focus is meeting the project goals of increasing safe, accessible travel for people walking, biking, driving and taking transit through this intersection,” Department of Environmental Services spokeswoman Claudia Pors said.

The Old Glebe Civic Association, which is located well to the north of the roundabout but along the commuter route of Military Road, has long fought against the pilot, saying the changes were unwarranted and there were no significant safety concerns at the intersection.

“Detractors contend that the new pattern has generated confusion and near-accidents, that it is difficult to navigate, and that the required merging of auto and cyclist traffic is particularly dangerous and difficult for cyclists… OGCA pledges continued opposition to the roundabout,” the association wrote in an April newsletter.

Prior to the pilot, Nelly Custis Drive met Military Road at the intersection in a T-shape, with a stop sign for traffic on northbound Military Road.

The OGCA previously said three crashes occurred over eight years, including two involving bicycles, out of the approximately 32 million vehicles that passed through the intersection during that period.

Per Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services data, about 11,000 vehicles pass through the intersection daily. In a presentation last summer, county staff said conversions to roundabouts reduce pedestrian crashes by 27%, while conversions from stop-controlled intersections reduce injury crashes by 82%.

Speeds decreased on all approaches during the pilot, according to the county. On the Nelly Custis approach, traffic on average recorded speeds of 34 mph in 2017, but 26 mph in April 2022.

The Military Road approach similarly decreased from 35 mph to 25 mph, and at the approach where the stop sign used to be, from 20 mph to 19 mph. In comparison to 2021 data, the speed decreases were more modest.

A graphic shows average speeds during the roundabout pilot at Military Road and Nelly Custis Drive (via Arlington County)

The Military Road and Nelly Custis Drive roundabout is one of three intersection improvement projects along Military Road that were identified in a 2004 study that recommended changes to improve safety. The other two intersections are at Marcey Road and 36th Road N.

After determining whether to install a permanent roundabout or lighted intersection, the county will construct the project in 2024, according to its project website.

Arlington only has one other permanent roundabout — at the intersection of N. Park Drive and 1st Street N. in Arlington Forest, according to the county. But two roundabouts are planned in Crystal City as part of the Boundary Channel Drive Intersection Improvements project, which is slated to begin construction this summer.

Pia Kramer contributed to this article

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