Driving in circles: Are Richmond’s roundabouts safe?

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — If it feels like you’ve been going in circles, you probably have. There are now about 50 traffic circles and roundabouts constructed or planned for the City of Richmond.

“Nobody knows what to do,” says Richmond motorist Judy Arenstein.

It didn’t take long for 8News cameras to capture a handful of drivers seemingly, including:

  • A dump truck attempting to maneuver through one of the city’s new roundabouts. Instead, the truck exited the circle onto a one-way street.A delivery truck that skipped a circle.
  • A delivery truck that skipped a circle altogether.
  • A school bus struggle to fit around a circle on Floyd Avenue.
  • A pickup truck that underestimated the turn and hit the curb.



“It’s confusing, it’s confusing,” Arenstein insists.

Morrie Piersol is a resident on Floyd where a series of traffic circles have been recently added.

“You kind of have to zig over here to get around the circle, but then you have to come back this way to get around the bump out,” she said.

Richmond resident Alice Lynch adds that the newly installed traffic circle on Park Avenue in the near west end, “is not that attractive. We really wanted four-way stops in order to cause vehicles come to complete stop, but instead the city decided to put what I call ‘street-a-planter’ into the middle of this old historic section.”

Yet traffic circles now line residential streets like Park and Floyd.

“The plants could obscure sight lines making them dangerous,” Lynch said.

“It’s kind of hodgepodge,” Piersol added. “They are all literally different in terms of design and regulations and signage.”

At Floyd and Belmont, the city took down a traffic light to put in a roundabout. Urban planner Andy Boenau with the Timmons Group says it’s part of an effort to make this a bike boulevard.

“When you slow down car traffic, it brings bicycle speed and car speed closer together and that makes it safer for everybody,” he explained.

Yet, cyclists and neighbors say they don’t feel safer.

“I feel like a week or so in, people have already gotten used to it and gone back to driving fast and as dangerously as they would anyway,” one cyclist told 8News.

Parent Scott Garnett says, “It’s helping to a degree, the bigger cars it’s definitely slowing them down, we don’t see any 18 wheelers which it great, but there are still cars that this is almost like a game to them.”

Roundabouts or circles have also been added to Fairfield Avenue, Jefferson and Nine Mile Road. A massive $1.2 million dollar roundabout funded by mostly Federal and State dollars is under construction at the xity’s six points Brookland Park Boulevard intersection.

City engineer Travis Bridewell says traffic circles decrease carbon emissions, slow traffic and reduce accidents.

“We feel they are a safety measure proven by the Federal highway administration,” he said.

The Federal Highway Administration finds serious and fatal crashes can be reduced by as much as 78% to 82%.

However, 8News took a look at some of the older roundabouts in Richmond. We analyzed accident reports for the five years before and after the roundabouts and we found in almost every case there was a slight increase in crashes.

At the roundabout in front of Virginia Union University, accidents soared from just three before the roundabout to 16 after it was installed.We shared our data with

A20AD77AE6584860ABF7CB1653B7A91DWe shared our data with city engineers and asked, “have you looked at accidents?”

Bridewell responded, “I will be glad to look at each intersection that you suggested, but back to the Federal Highway Administration, it’s proven safety.”

Turns out, no one with the city has ever looked back to see if the circles already in place are working before adding more.

We also asked if the City has been checking speeds where those older roundabouts are, we wanted to know if they City had done any traffic studies after installing the roundabouts.

Bridewell told us, “Given staffing, I really haven’t had an opportunity to do that, any after studies, no.”

Due to all the confusion on the roads, 8News was told the city will now be giving those circles a second look.

“I am also reviewing all the circles in the city to make sure they have the proper signage, whether it be yield or stop,” says Bridewell.

Still, urban planners and city officials think Richmonders may still come around to roundabouts and believe residents will see benefits in time.

“People are so aware of their surroundings and paying such close attention, it ends up being safer,” says Boenau.

“We always seem to have questions during construction, just let us finish,” Bridewell added.

City engineers also say if an accident happens at an intersection with a roundabout, chances are they are happening at a lower rate of speed -10-15 miles per hour vs. 25-35 mph – therefore reducing the risk of serious injury.

This information may prove helpful for those confused about how to drive through a roundabout. No matter what direction you are entering, you yield to traffic already in the roundabout. The City has this diagram to help.


In case you’re wondering, the majority of the costs for roundabouts have been covered by federal grants 90% while the state picks up about 10%.Again, the Federal government views roundabouts as a safety measure. As for those traffic circles, the City is picking up the tab for most of them. They average about $12,000-$15,000.

Again, the federal government views roundabouts as a safety measure. As for those traffic circles, the city is picking up the tab for most of them. They average about $12,000-$15,000.

Some viewers expressed concerns about emergency vehicles and roundabouts. They worry the traffic formation slows down emergency response. However, The Richmond Ambulance Authority tells 8news they like roundabouts because they can keep moving. If there’s a stop sign, they have to stop even with their sirens.

However, The Richmond Ambulance Authority tells 8News they like roundabouts because they can keep moving. If there’s a stop sign, they have to stop, even with their sirens.

The city says they worked hand-in-hand with Richmond’s Fire Chief on the designs for the circles and all the emergency responders go through driving training that includes roundabouts.

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