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Vienna to design mini roundabout for site of recent pedestrian crash

The Town of Vienna is moving ahead with plans for a second mini roundabout, this time at an intersection where a pedestrian was seriously injured in a crash last month.

As an initial safety measure, the town will install stop signs at all three sides of the Church Street and East Street NE intersection, which currently only requires drivers on Church Street to stop, Vienna Public Works Director Brad Baer told the town council at a meeting on May 6.

The new signs are expected to be in place by the end of this week, according to Vienna Public Information Director Karen Thayer.

In the long term, however, redesigning the T-shaped intersection as a roundabout will make it safer and more efficient, reducing traffic backups that can extend to Maple Avenue, town staff said.

“Some of the benefits here are a counterclockwise flow around a central island that provides a traffic calming effect, lower speeds, less conflict points,” Baer said. “…Pedestrians don’t have to look both ways and have shorter distances to cross with center islands in the middle…There are disadvantages as well, but mainly, it’s the growing pains, and at first, people need to gain familiarity with the roundabout concept.”

Vienna drivers have gained familiarity with roundabouts — or traffic circles, as Councilmember Roy Baldwin argued they should be called because “this is America” — since one was installed at Park Street and Locust Street SE in 2016.

After some initial issues with drivers on Park Street treating the roundabout like a straight road and nearby residents complaining about honking, the roundabout now appears to be “operating the way it’s supposed to,” according to Vienna Police Chief Jim Morris.

In addition to relieving congestion, the roundabout hasn’t seen any pedestrian crashes in at least three years, based on data that Morris shared earlier in the meeting. Vienna has had 16 crashes involving pedestrians since 2021, when there were seven crashes, followed by four in 2022, three in 2023 and two so far this year.

In the most recent crash, a driver turning left from East Street onto Church hit a woman around 6:43 p.m. on April 24. The woman sustained “pretty serious injuries” and remained hospitalized, as of last week’s town council meeting, according to Morris.

“It sounds like she’s improving, but she’s not able to communicate or anything yet,” the police chief said, adding that the crash is still under investigation.

Under consideration since 2015, the Church and East street roundabout was included in the 2024 Capital Improvement Plan and has $550,000 in available funds from the Virginia Department of Transportation and Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA), though more will be needed for construction, Baer said.

The town council voted 5-2 last week to approve a $379,129 design contract for the Maryland-based engineering firm Rummel, Klepper & Kahl LLP. The opposing votes came from Baldwin and Councilmember Sandra Allen.

After Baer confirmed the NVTA funding could be repurposed for another project that meets the same criteria, Baldwin questioned if the roundabout is the best use of that money, especially when the project would be “condemning people in that area to a long construction period.”

Baer estimates that the design process will take two years, followed by three to six months of construction, Thayer told FFXnow.

“I’m unconvinced at this point that the traffic circle is the only remedy that is available for the cost that we would have to spend,” Baldwin said.

Other council members expressed support for the roundabout based on their experiences using the one on Park Street. In light of the April 24 crash, they stressed that the design team should carefully consider where crosswalks are placed and include signage, lighting or other measures to ensure pedestrians are visible to drivers.

The approved design contract for the Church and East street roundabout requires a lighting study and the inclusion of street lights — an element left out of the Park Street roundabout, Mayor Linda Colbert noted.

A project to add street lighting at the existing roundabout is in the works. The town submitted designs to Fairfax County, which will operate the lights, in October and anticipates construction taking place this fall.

“The crossings are at unusual places. I do remember when they presented the roundabout to us, they said…it’s safer to do it that way, which I understand,” Colbert said. “But I think having it well-lit is important to a lot of kids, and people of all ages are going to be out walking.”

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