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February 4, 2002

Improvements coming in a 'roundabout' way

By Michael Terrazas


It may be some time before wholesale changes are made to Emory Village, but at least the ball is rolling, and before it stops it may roll into a very different look for the small commercial area adjacent to the University campus.

On Jan. 26 in the Emory Presbyterian Church, the Alliance to Improve Emory Village held a workshop to brief village stakeholders (merchants, neighborhood residents and, of course, University-related individuals) on what has been done so far in planning changes to the busy (and often dangerous) intersection that is home to the district.

The alliance is a group of those very same stakeholders who’ve joined together to work cooperatively toward a solution that might benefit everyone. Around 100 people attended the Saturday-morning workshop.

What they came up with may be a pleasant surprise to those who’ve taken their life into their own hands while crossing one of the five roads that meet at the Emory Village intersection. The most popular solution proposed at the workshop was to install some form of traffic roundabout to slow vehicles moving through the intersection and provide a safer pedestrian environment—all in an aesthetically pleasing fashion.

The alliance has hired Michael Wallwork, an internationally known roundabout expert from Australia, to consult on the project. The designer of dozens of roundabouts across the United States and the world, Wallwork briefed workshop attendants on the concept and design of roundabouts.

“One of the reasons I like roundabouts is that they’re safer than anything else we have out there,” Wallwork said in a thick Australian accent. “Cars go much slower, and it’s much harder to hit somebody; I like to say you can always go around to the other side and have another shot at them.”

Wallwork offered three roundabout alternatives for Emory Village: an oval-shaped roundabout that stretches most of the width of the intersection (his preference); two separate, circular roundabouts; and one circular roundabout in front of Dowman Drive (the Emory gate), coupled with a redirection of the north leg of Oxford Road so that it intersects N. Decatur Road perpendicularly.

Hector Morales, capital program manager for Facilities Management and an alliance boardmember, said while he appreciates the appeal of a roundabout, he’s concerned that the Emory Village intersection is simply too busy for a roundabout to work. Pedestrian safety, he said, is the University’s top priority in any village redesign.

“We may be building something that may not work in the future,” Morales said. “My concern is that traffic never stops moving [in a roundabout]. Although it slows vehicles down, I think a car physically stopped at a traffic light is the best way to ensure safety.”

The roundabout was the most drastic (and expensive) idea proposed at the workshop. Other, less radical alternatives include the aforementioned redirection of Oxford Road, which would turn the main village intersection into a more conventional, four-pointed crossing; or eliminating some of the paved surface around the intersection and rearranging street lane configuration to slow traffic.

The next step, Morales said, is for the alliance’s architectural consultant (Peter Drey & Co. of Atlanta) to create architectural drawings. After the alliance approves of the design, it will begin to look for funding, a substantial portion of which, Morales said, would likely come from a government source.