Sunday, April 18, 2010


It is not my place to speak for the other members of the Hilliard School Board, but as a private citizen, I am most definitely not a proponent of the Hilliard Triangle Project as currently being implemented by the City of Hilliard.

I actually like roundabouts – when they are located in appropriate places and properly designed. Unfortunately, I do not believe either is the case with this particular project. I believe this particular design will make the traffic problems worse during peak periods, and more importantly, create much more danger for the children who need to cross those intersections, given that this area has the greatest concentration of school buildings in our district. Kids walking to/from Hilliard Station 6th Grade Building, Scioto Darby Elementary, Memorial Middle School, Heritage Middle School and Darby High School will need to cross these streets, in some cases multiple times.

For those who have not heard about this project, here's the simple explanation: The two intersections at Main St and Cemetery Rd and Main St and Scioto-Darby Rd are going to be replaced by two roundabouts. At the same time, the "Y" intersection just west of there where Cemetery Rd and Scioto Darby Rd meet is being reworked to become a 90° intersection with a traffic light. The City of Hilliard has published a Frequently Asked Questions page that provides many more details, and a lot of opinion presented as fact.

What I write here is opinion as well, of course. My hope is to point out what I believe are legitimate and reasoned concerns. It is up to you to decide who makes the better case.

So, as I said, I like roundabouts. I believe the ones on Britton Parkway and Hayden Run Rd are generally good designs, and are functioning well. We got our first taste of roundabouts in England, where they are often used at busy and complex intersections, including as freeway interchanges.

One of the arguments in favor of roundabouts is that they're safer precisely because they force drivers to engage and think about what is going on around them, something that isn't quite so necessary when an intersection is controlled by standard traffic lights. While I believe this to be true, I suspect that this argument was made in the days before cell phones and texting, two practices which make driving in general more dangerous (especially for motorcycle riders like me!), and especially so at intersections where the traffic never stops.

I would be in favor of putting short-range 'cell phone signal killers' (and they absolutely exist) in roundabouts, except that I'm sure that if a person's cell phone suddenly went dead, he/she would become even more distracted while trying to figure out what was going on (although I once had the opportunity to observe an experiment with such a device, and while most people quickly discovered that their signal had been lost, one person spoke on for quite a while before realizing that the other party wasn't responding).

While not a traffic engineer, I have been involved in data telecommunications all my adult life, and the problems of auto traffic engineering and data traffic engineering are remarkably similar. The closest equivalent to a roundabout in a data network is a router. A router receives data from many incoming data streams, sorts the streams by destination, and sends them on via the appropriate path.

In most cases, routers work pretty well, but there can be problems. One of the major problems is congestion, when so much data traffic is coming to the router that it is unable to keep up. When that happens, one of more of the incoming streams has to be stopped until the congestion clears, causing users of the network to experience delays and sometimes interruptions. While working for the largest network operator on the planet, UUNET, we saw a couple of occasions when congestion became so bad that entire sections of the country had service disruptions as the congestion problem propagated out from the original source, just as happens when there is a big wreck on I-270 and lots of people bail out to the surface streets, congesting them as well.

This is one of the things which I believe will happen at the Hilliard Triangle roundabouts during times of peak traffic flow: morning rush hour, afternoon school dismissal, and evening rush hour. The situation is entirely predictable: traffic entering from one of the directions will become dense enough to completely congest the roundabout, forcing traffic from the other three directions to stop and wait until the traffic from the first direction subsides. Because roundabouts have a counter-clockwise flow, the traffic from the next counter-clockwise direction, which has been backing up while waiting for a shot at the roundabout, will jump into the roundabout and fill it until that line empties, and so on around the circle.

This phenomenon will be further exacerbated in our case by the fact that there is another roundabout right next to the first, where the whole congestion scenario happens again. Take for example that it is evening rush hour, when there is a lot of traffic which has exited I-270 and is heading westbound on Cemetery Rd. Some of that traffic will need to go south on Main St, as evidenced by the number of cars which today jam up in that intersection. A car traveling this route will enter the Cemetery/Main roundabout at the eastern portal, travel 270° around the roundabout to go south, exiting on Main St, only to be immediately dumped into the second roundabout. There the driver will need to go to the opposite exit to continue south on Main St. If that roundabout becomes congested, traffic could back up into the other roundabout, bringing traffic at this key junction to a standstill. Tempers will flare, and accidents will happen.

Which brings me to my greater concern: pedestrian safety – in particular the safety of the children who will be crossing those intersections on the way to and from school. You may recall that we've already had one death near there – crossing guard Dianna Sharp, who is credited with saving a child by putting her own body in the way of a dump truck westbound on Scioto Darby Rd.

The views expressed on the City of Hilliard website include this:

"The pedestrian environment is much safer with roundabouts. Intuitively this may not initially make sense because pedestrian WALK/DON'T WALK signals are removed at roundabouts; however, large intersections with wide pavements to cross, many turn lanes, and higher speeds do not provide an environment that is inviting or conducive to pedestrian mobility and safety."

But it seems to me that with appropriate traffic light sequencing and WALK/DON'T WALK signs, you can create periods of time – just during school hours – when all traffic is momentarily brought to a stop, and you can safely maneuver kids across the intersection, especially with the supervision of crossing guards. With the roundabouts, traffic does not come to a complete stop, except to yield to pedestrians – if they are noticed.

So let's go back to the argument that roundabouts are supposed to be safer because they force drivers to think. In reality, when you come to a roundabout, there is a significant amount of information to process, and you get all of that information visually. You will be primarily looking for opportunities to weave your 3,000lb vehicle moving at 25mph or so into a traffic flow of other 3,000lb vehicles also moving at 25mph. How likely are you to be looking for a 4ft tall, 60lb kid about to cross the street at your exit point? No very likely, I fear. Especially so for drivers yapping and texting on their cell phones, and remember, we'll have lots of teenage drivers from both Darby and Davidson high schools using these intersections.

The opportunity to have cars mowing down kids is unacceptably great, in my opinion.

Both of my key concerns are solvable. It just takes money. Instead of two small adjacent roundabouts, a larger roundabout could have been constructed, providing a single sorting point for Cemetery, Main and Cemetery traffic. It would almost certainly mean buying the Donatos property, which the City of Hilliard has the power to do through eminent domain even if Donatos is unwilling to sell, but the cost would have been much greater. I think this is an incredibly short-sighted decision on the part of the City's leadership. Once built, these double-roundabouts are apt to be a nightmare long after they leave office (although, we no longer have term limits in Hilliard!)

The pedestrian concerns could have been easily solved as well. At many roundabouts in the UK, pedestrian crossings are built underground (they call them 'subways'), allowing pedestrians to get from one side of the roundabout to the other without crossing vehicular traffic at all. I understand that our neighbors to the north, the City of Dublin, has implemented a number of these underground crossing for precisely this reason.

And on this point about money, please understand that articles you may read in the papers about the City of Hilliard and Hilliard City Schools arguing about money is simply this: there is a significant cost associated with this project, and the City of Hilliard wants to minimize its expenditure, and the less they have to spend on school stuff, the better it is for them. The City of Hilliard is getting a good chunk of money from the US Government to underwrite some of the cost, but not all.

The rest has to come from local taxpayers, either via the City through income taxes (paid by people who work in the City), or via the School District through property taxes (paid by everyone who owns property in the School District). Both entities want to preserve their tax revenue for other purposes, and get the other entity to pay for as much as possible.

Most of those costs have to do with the construction of the actual roundabouts. Other sizable amounts have to do with the changes that will have to be made to Hilliard City School facilities to accommodate and replace the property features that will be lost (e.g. the parking lot in front of Hilliard Station 6th Grade School). The conversations going on between the City and the School District have to do with how much those costs will be, and who should bear the cost.

It's just a negotiation, which is always a mixture of motivation and opinion – and sometimes a little emotion.
On Thursday, April 29, at 7pm in the Central Office Annex, you are invited to one of our Community Conversations to hear from and ask questions of representatives of all the municipal jurisdictions affecting our school district (Hilliard, Columbus, Dublin, and Franklin County). If you have questions or concerns about these roundabouts and other development plans in our community, this is a great opportunity to have them addressed.


  1. I see real concerns with the roundabout with pedestrian safety being the first. I can see the only solution is channeling all such traffic away from the area perhaps farther down the street. The area can be a challenge with such a concentration of traffic, students walking, buses etc. Perhaps they will reroute some traffic toward Davidson Rd, not good for residents or through the back on Alton Darby.

    I think the smart play would have been to eliminate the small extension and go two lanes each side toward the schools.

  2. Paul - I think you're absolutely right - especially about the compound / secondary problems we're going to see with two roundabouts right on top of one another.

    One of the things we're going to have to deal with (at least for the first year or two of operation) are people learning to navigate roundabouts effectively. When I first saw roundabouts in the UK, I was struck by how rapidly and smoothly people moved into the flow of traffic, merging on the fly without coming to a complete halt.

    I am extremely skeptical that this will happen here (I've seen Ohio drivers slow to a near-complete halt on an interstate on-ramp!). As you mentioned, we've got a couple roundabouts in Hilliard already, and when I've gone through them, I invariably see one or more drivers waiting paralyzed until at least half the roundabout is cleared, rather than moving smoothly into an available gap, as the Brits do. The existence of two lanes in these roundabouts is of no consequence whatsoever.

    When we drop a couple of these into downtown Hilliard, how many times (at rush hour) do we really expect half the roundabout to clear out? Not too often, I'd guess.

    Over time, I think we'll probably see some people become more comfortable with the roundabouts, and the deer-like stares of panic will subside, but I think it's more likely that drivers will simply do absolutely everything in their power to avoid downtown Hilliard, which may not really be the outcome we're looking for.

    Like the paralyzed motorists, though, I'm not sure logic is in the driver's seat in this case.

  3. D - I once saw a lady westbound on Hayden Run pull up to the roundabout at Britton Pkwy, stop, then TURN LEFT to go north on Britton. So much for the effectiveness of signs - like crosswalk signs!


  4. Rick: Agree. I see Roberts Rd as becoming the major east-west arterial into all areas south of Cemetery and west of Rome-Hilliard. Soon it will look like Sawmill Rd around I-270...

  5. I also enjoy roundabouts when installed in the right situations but the two at Main, Cemetery, & Scioto Darby Roads is just nuts. Alas, no one listens to the plain old citizens in town. Where is common sense? Two roundabouts right where so many schools are located is just a crash and injury waiting to happen. Our daughter attended SDE when the horrible crash occurred two years ago (the crossing guard was killed and a student was severely injured). That was just a few feet from where these roundabouts will be built.

    We were just discussing that, upon school dismissals, it will be interesting to see how the buses maneuver within the two roundabouts much less the poor children who walk!

    This is insanity at the most basic level and I realize it is the City of Hilliard but I also wonder where the HCSD Board was when these plans were being discussed. Sometimes the Board is the only organized voice for the children of town...

  6. I agree with you that the School Board should take a position on such matters.

    We have all just signed a letter to Columbus officials asking them to reconsider approving zoning/building permits which would allow high density housing to be built on Renner Rd, near Keim Ford.

    But it's even more powerful when members of the public attend the meetings of City Council, the School Board, or their township trustees to express concerns.

  7. The problem with this design is not the two roundabouts. As someone who grew up driving roundabouts, people will get used to them extremely quickly. They work extremely well in high traffic areas.

    The problem with this design is the traffic light. And yes, it is utterly unnecessary; there is a solution to this that eliminates the traffic light completely. Unfortunately, getting the city engineer to listen to common sense has proven to be impossible.

    The reason that the traffic light is the problem is because Paul is partially correct; roundabouts can congest VERY quickly, just not in the way Paul indicates. What will happen is that whenever the traffic light turns red, it shuts down an outlet from the roundabout.

    Roundabouts work because they funnel traffic; but the bottle neck isn't the roundabout, nor are the four lanes of traffic entering at the same time. The bottleneck is when one of the outlets becomes blocked, leaving the traffic nowhere to go.

    Paul, if you can finagle it somehow, I'd like the chance to pitch the alternative to the engineer directly, and the change would require very little changes to the current plan and might even save the city some money...

  8. Mike:

    Thanks for your comments as an experienced roundabout navigator. Did you ever have occasion to use the one in Swindon? I traveled by train whenever I was in that part of the UK, but I've heard that one is something to experience, and absolutely terrifying for those used to driving in the right lane.

    My primary concern isn't so much the auto traffic, although either or both of us are likely correct in our predictions of it being a mess.

    But I am concerned about trying to get schoolkids safely across the road a couple of times per day. It wouldn't surprise me if there isn't an outcry to have police officers direct (stop) traffic to ensure that kids can cross safely. Imagine what that will do for traffic flow.

    The traffic engineer for the City of Hilliard is Letty Schamp, and she can be reached at 614-334-2456 or

  9. Let's hope our roundabouts don't end up looking
    like this.

  10. Sure was a mess going south on Avery/Main tonight at about 7pm. Traffic was backed up past the fairgrounds, and once I got to the roundabout, it looked about the same coming west on Cemetery. I think the culprit was the traffic light at Scioto Darby, which was causing traffic to back up into the roundabout, which also backed up traffic trying to go westbound on the newly opened final leg of the north roundabout. I personally witnessed a number of near misses as frustrated folks tried to jump into the roundabout whenever the smallest gap opened up.

    Is this an early glimpse of what it will be like when the project is done and there is a traffic light at the Scioto-Darby / Cemetery intersection?

    What will it look like at the start and end of the school day, when scads of kids are trying to cross? Auto traffic is supposed to stop for pedestrians. Isn't that just like a traffic light turning red? Will drivers get frustrated, as I observed?

  11. Funny your idea of one big roundabout...I too thought of the same thing and posted it on another site ( which I think is no longer there. In any event, I too like roundabouts but think two back to back are crazy...and I know the project is not finished, but since they have finished the first one, things have gotten worse. Traffic from one inlet does take up the whole roundabout until that inlet dies down..then the next starts up. I think this is mostly because people coming down Cemetary are mostly going straight thru the roundabout and West on Scioto Darby. If they wanted to go another direction, they could have done that further down Cemetary. Right turns (or in this case exiting on your first opportunity) is what opens up gaps. Wonder if any kind of study was done to determine which patterns were used most often at this intersection? In any event, we may get used to it..but I am guessing traffic will be worse than when there were two traffic lights there.

  12. Dan: Thanks for the comment.

    I will withhold further opinion until the second roundable is completed, and we get to see what happens during the times when kids are making their way to/from schools. I'm frankly less concerned about the impact on traffic than I am the safety of the kids and crossing guards who will be trying to get across intersections where the traffic never stops.

    I'm praying that the price of this experiment isn't a kid getting injured.

  13. Agreed...glad my kids go to Avery

  14. Paul..I am anxious to hear what you think about the roundabouts since they have been completed? I do not go through there often during busy times, but have noticed they have not helped traffic cotming from Cemetary Road. During very light traffic, I tried crossing using the crosswalks and almost got run over...and felt very unsafe stopping in between lanes. I have also seen traffic back up from one roundabout into the other. Just a bad plan.

  15. A couple of observations:

    1. As I've said before, I generally like roundabouts, when they are put in appropriate locations and properly engineered. I'm still not convinced that either is the case with this double roundabout setup.

    2. The evening rush hour is pretty miserable, with traffic westbound on Cemetery Rd often backed up to the railroad underpass. When you get up to the roundabout, the situation is exactly as I described above - cars entering the roundabouts from the south (northbound on Main) will hog the the path to the northbound Main and westbound Cemetery exits, preventing traffic from westbound Cemetery from entering the roundabout. I shouldn't give away my secret, but if I'm in the area in the late afternoon, heading west on Cemetery, I cut down High School Drive and then enter the south roundabout first, then go 270 degrees around the north roundabout to continue westbound on Cemetery.

    3. The other day I was going south on Main, then west on Cemetery. I was of course looking left to see if any cars were coming my way in the roundabout, and was horrified that before I knew it, I had driven over the pedestrian crossing. If there had been a kid crossing there, I'm not sure I would have detected it in time to stop.

    That's what terrifies me about the placement of these roundabouts. There's lots of traffic, several pedestrian crossing, five schools in the vicinity, and consequently lots of kids. We'll be very fortunate if one doesn't get hit.