March 17, 2021
PennDOT has parsed through safety statistics across the state in recent years to demonstrate the effectiveness of replacing traffic signals with traffic circles at dicey intersections.
Philadelphia is no Washington, D.C. when it comes to roundabouts. They're most notably found here at Logan Circle and Eakins Oval, with some others scattered across the city.
But construction activity began this week on a traffic circle at the intersection of Frankford Avenue, East York Street and Trenton Avenue in Fishtown. The intersection, considered an elevated risk for drivers, was included last year in Philadelphia's High Injury Network, an accident tracking database that forms part of the city's Vision Zero plan.
About 80% of all traffic deaths and severe injuries occur on High Injury Network roads, which account for just 12% of city streets.
A Streets Department spokesperson explained that the High Injury Network's mapping methodology no longer includes the Fishtown intersection, but it remains eligible for the city's Modern Roundabout Program due to an analysis of crash data.
The intersection was selected for the program in 2014 based on five-year crash data that showed 10 reportable crashes between 2009 and 2013.
The project will entail the removal of existing traffic signals, installation of new street lighting, curb line reconfigurations and islands for the new roundabout traffic pattern. New signing, line striping and upgraded curb ramps also will be necessary.
Two detours will be posted during the work, one for smaller vehicles and another for trucks. The small vehicle detour will send vehicular traffic northbound from Tulip Street to Huntingdon Street and southbound from Coral Street to Dauphin Street. The truck detour will direct trucks to use Girard, Aramingo and Lehigh avenues. SEPTA will detour the Route 5 bus during the intersection's closure.
Once the work is done, there are plans taking shape for a project that would bring 15 apartments and retail space to the intersection, according to OCF Realty. That project will be led by Ambit Architecture.
Last September, PennDOT released data on a study of 22 intersections where roundabouts had been installed. Crashes at the locations dropped by 21%. Fatalities were eliminated.
The study also found suspected serious injuries were reduced by 77% and suspected minor injuries were reduced by 57%. Crashes causing only property damage increased by 21%.
JPC Group Inc. has been awarded a $1.28 million contract to complete construction of the Fishtown roundabout. The project is being funded using Automated Red Light Enforcement funds.
"The initial cost for a roundabout is almost twice as much as it costs to put new signals in," Gus Scheerbaum, director of strategic initiatives for the Streets Department, told Star News. "But it’s more affordable in the long run because there’s less maintenance."
The Modern Roundabout Program aims to replace geometrically complex signalized intersections in the city. Other intesections that have been considered for roundabouts include Ardleigh Street and Vernon Road, Cobbs Creek Parkway and 70th Street, Montgomery and Belmont avenues, and Pine Road and Shady Lane.
Beyond the inconvenience of detoured traffic in Fishtown this summer, the benefits of the roundabout should become clear with improved safety at the intersection.
And contrary to one Pennsylvania man's paranoid delusion — no, roundabouts will not increase tornadoes in Fishtown.