Road Worrier

Hillsborough St. traffic circle sees 84 crashes

'Roundabout is kind of scary'

Staff WriterOctober 25, 2011 

  • Read the City of Raleigh's instruction pamphlet for "Driving the Roundabout" at the NCSU Bell Tower. It's online at bit.ly/d3l8au.

— Drivers on Hillsborough Street are still flummoxed by a twin-ring roundabout that replaced the stoplight at Pullen Road more than a year ago. And they're still crashing their mopeds, bikes and cars there.

Eighty accidents have been reported since traffic began rolling around the two-lane circle in July 2010.

Wait, make that 84. Let's add four crashes over the weekend in the roundabout in front of N.C. State University's Bell Tower.

One car flipped over and flattened a fence on the circle's rim, in front of John Wardlaw's office building. The latest crashes had not been logged Monday on the Raleigh police website, but Wardlaw reported the overturned car to the Road Worrier.

The Bell Tower roundabout smoothed away some old problems for Hillsborough Street drivers, but it seems to have introduced new ones. Now that the red light is gone from the corner of Hillsborough and Pullen, the main thing that stops cars there is collisions with others.

About half the 84 roundabout crashes involve drivers entering the two-ring circus from eastbound Hillsborough. They're supposed to yield right-of-way to vehicles already in the roundabout.

But sometimes, something goes wrong.

They don't notice cars in the inside lane of the roundabout, or they don't realize that cars in both lanes might cross in front of them to head south on Pullen Road. Or they get confused.

"That roundabout is kind of scary," said Kiana Brown of Wake Forest, who bent her fender there one afternoon last May. "There needs to be somebody telling you how to do it, or a light or something."

Brown was charged with failure to yield to a driver in the roundabout.

"I waited for people to go around, and then I pulled out," said Brown, 19. "When that lady came around it was like, whoa, where did she come from?"

Jessica Fish of Fuquay-Varina drew a similar charge after her May 20 crash at the same spot.

"I didn't see the guy at all," said Fish, 22. "He wasn't anywhere in my line of sight - until I was in the middle of his exit for Pullen Road."

According to a state Department of Transportation analysis of 76 crashes at the Bell Tower roundabout from July 2010 through September of this year, police pegged total damages at $206,000 but reported only minor injuries to nine people.

"The good news is that they're all at low speeds, and there have only been a few injuries," said Jed Niffenegger, senior transportation engineer in the city's public works department. "But the frequency and volume of crashes drew our attention to the matter."

Early this year he began working with other agencies to tackle the crash problem. Eastbound Hillsborough drivers now see extra signs emphasizing that "Yield" means "to both lanes" of roundabout traffic.

NCSU officials circulated traffic safety reminders, and they distributed an unusual instruction manual for the Bell tower roundabout published by city planners last year.

So far there's no sign in crash reports that drivers are learning how to navigate the Bell Tower roundabout safely. If the numbers show little improvement this fall, Niffenegger and DOT engineers say they will consider changes at the intersection.

They could realign the eastbound Hillsborough lanes to meet the circle more squarely, making a pause more likely.

"At some point, efficiency has to take a bit of a back seat to safety," Niffenegger said.

919-829-4527 or bruce.siceloff@newsobserver.com. On the Web at twitter.com/Road_Worrier/ and blogs.newsobserver.com/crosstown/. Please include address and daytime phone.

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