Traffic light or roundabout? County considers options for two intersections
The Florida Department of Transportation is considering adding roundabouts to two Flagler County intersections. But the County Commission isn't sure if it wants them.
"Everyone is familiar with the signal, people aren't familiar with roundabouts, so it’s scary and new. I would let the facts come forward. ... I am skeptical myself, but I'm willing to let DOT come forward and address it."— CRAIG COFFEY, county administrator
The intersections in question are the intersection of U.S. 1 and Old Dixie Highway — a high-crash area where six people have died so far this year — and the intersection of County Road 304 and State Road 11.
Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly, in a Nov. 21 letter to Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Mike Dew, held off on stating his opinion on roundabouts versus signalized intersections. But he noted that the proposed roundabout is at least a year away and a solution is needed quickly — and that solution could be a light.
"While I will not discuss my personal opinion on a roundabout solution at this intersection, as I will defer to the FDOT experts, a quicker solution is needed now, such as installing a fully functional traffic light," he wrote.
At a County Commission meeting Dec. 4, resident George Mayo told commissioners that he favored a light over a roundabout.
"Everyone I’ve talked to, and I've talked to multiple people — especially motorcycle riders, of which I am one — do not think that a roundabout would be a very good position for that intersection," he said.
He suggested that the County Commission, if it offers any input to the state, suggest a traffic light rather than a roundabout.
County Administrator Craig Coffey noted that the board has pressed for improvements at the intersection in the past, but hasn't staked out a position on a roundabout versus a light.
"And I would caution the board against doing that based on — everyone is familiar with the signal, people aren't familiar with roundabouts, so it’s scary and new," he said. "I would let the facts come forward and them demonstrate that roundabouts are safer. ... I am skeptical myself, but I'm willing to let DOT come forward and address it."
Coffey said most traffic crashes are caused by driver error and inattentiveness rather than intersection design or signalization.
"The fact that you see accidents may mean it's an intersection where if a driver’s not paying attention, the consequences are worse," he said. "Some intersections you have to think, and I think this is one you have to think at. And if you aren’t thinking because you're distracted or otherwise, there’s going to be more accidents at those intersections."
If the state adds a roundabout at the intersection, County Commission Chairman Greg Hansen said, "It’s going to necessitate a slowdown, which might be the safest thing that could happen."
But County Commissioner Nate McLaughlin said he'd grown up around roundabouts.
"You will have people run right over the top," he said.
"I will tell you even at Hunter’s Ridge, there’s a roundabout and someone plowed the fountain in the center of that," Coffey said. "But they also plow through lights, they also plow through — you can’t fix driver error, no matter how many safety improvements you make to an intersection."
"People are not used to roundabouts right now," Commissioner David Sullivan said. "That’s the problem with the roundabout."
McLaughlin said the proposal for a roundabout at the intersection at C.R. 304 and S.R. 11, also known as Cody's Corner, has already generated resident opposition.
"We’ve collected in excess of 400, 500 names who signed a petition opposing this roundabout," he said. "In the case of 304 and 11, this is a rural application. ... There’s a number of engineering things that can go a long way," he said. He suggested adding some form of lighting and trimming away bushes that block drivers' views. A roundabout, McLaughlin said, is "just not conducive to the agricultural environment that we have on the west side where you’re moving, sometimes, huge pieces of equipment."
Coffey said roundabouts might not be the right solution for a county with a population like Flagler's.
"The age of our population and ... the diversity of our population — we have people from all over the country here — makes me think roundabouts will be challenging," he said. "I don't know if the state is looking to Europe or other states, but they're definitely putting these in throughout. It's definitely a statewide policy shift."