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Permanent Military Road roundabout still a possibility despite ‘operational confusion’

A temporary roundabout on Military Road (staff photo)

Arlington County has not ruled out the possibility of a permanent roundabout on Military Road despite the confusion a temporary version has caused for the past year.

In October 2021, where there used to be a stop sign for traffic on northbound Military Road, the county added paint lines, bollards and raised temporary curbs, and partially demolished a median. The work was aimed at improving safety where Military Road intersects with Nelly Custis Drive.

While preliminary data from the county found the roundabout did lower speeds, 53% of drivers, 27% of pedestrians and 26% of cyclists said they felt “less safe” or “much less safe” using the new traffic pattern, per a summary of feedback collected this summer.

“The majority of all respondents reported feeling less safe while using the pilot intersection, but the margins were very narrow for those who walked or biked through the intersection,” the report says. “Those who reported feeling less safe highlighted concerns with operational confusion, the size of the pilot roundabout and the perceived lack of sufficient space for a well-designed roundabout in the future condition.”

Drivers said they were confused about proper procedure in the intersection, while cyclists said drivers exhibited inconsistent behavior and would revert to habits they had when the intersection had a stop sign, per the report. Additionally, several users said the temporary materials caused visual challenges that contributed to the confusion.

Responses from a survey regarding a traffic circle on Military Road (via Arlington County)

About 31% of drivers, 26% of pedestrians and 18% of cyclists said they felt “safer” or “much safer” with the traffic circle, the summary says.

Road users in this camp were also concerned about confusion, but “reported better yield rates by vehicles to pedestrians, slower vehicle speeds, and easier operations for traffic flow and left turns from Military to Military,” the report said.

For now, it seems the roundabout is still in play as a permanent change.

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

The report says that the project can “take the form of either a signalized intersection or a roundabout” and that a majority of issues locals raised “can be addressed through design in a capital project, where the intersection design will not be limited by existing curb lines.”

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

Meanwhile, the Old Glebe Civic Association, which previously called the changes “unwanted” and says it has opposed the potential project for four years, says it has sources claiming the roundabout is all but a done deal.

“Two County staff members recently stated that the County will be building a permanent roundabout, which will take about 12 to 15 months, independent of the public feedback,” writes Peter Jaffe in the October edition of OGCA’s newsletter. “They said that the permanent roundabout will be larger than the temporary one and that the increased size will help address confusion by drivers about who is in the roundabout and who has the right of way.”

The report notes that recently, signs in the middle of the roundabout “have been knocked down and later repaired at least twice, suggesting that incidents have occurred at the roundabout.” The Old Glebe neighborhood is about 2 miles west of the roundabout, but Military Road is a popular commuter route for those heading east.

In response to OGCA’s letter, Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Claudia Pors tells ARLnow there is no official recommendation yet.

“The County has not shared any recommendation or decision for the Military Road and Nelly Custis Roundabout Pilot Project at this time,” she said.

As for the signage, she said the team at DES is aware of the issue.

“Throughout the pilot’s duration, signage has been knocked over,” she said. “Staff has repaired or replaced these signs as soon as possible. We do not have information on the exact causes of these incidents or how many times they occurred.”

More information about the project’s next stages will be available during an open house next week, which will discuss transportation safety and access projects along Nelly Custis Drive, Military Road and Lorcom Lane. It will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 29 at Dorothy Hamm Middle School from 7-8:30 p.m.

“This will include an update on the roundabout pilot project, including sharing a summary of the feedback we received, staff recommendation and next steps,” Pors said.

On Lorcom Lane, DES proposes multimodal safety improvements from 24th Road N. and N. Quebec Street to Nelly Custis Drive. The project responds to community concerns, crash data and a Vision Zero pilot project on the north side of the corridor, per the project webpage.

It will ensure continuous sidewalks on both sides of Lorcom Lane, widen existing sidewalks so they are accessible to people with disabilities, resolve “alignment issues” with the intersection of N. Quebec Street and Lorcom Lane, reduce pedestrian crossing distances and address safety issues at the intersection of Lorcom Lane and Nelly Custis Drive.

On Nelly Custis Drive, DES proposes filling in missing sidewalk links and a quick-build Vision Zero project at Nelly Custis Drive and N. Quincy Street. This project will build out a marked curb extension at the southeast corner of the intersection, delivering  accessible curb ramps and shortening pedestrian crossing distance over Nelly Custis Drive. These improvements were identified by a safety audit conducted in 2019.

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