City TRC takes up Daniel Island roundabout plan
The City of Charleston’s Technical Review Committee (TRC) has conducted its first review of the Berkeley County-led plan to install a roundabout at the corner of Seven Farms Drive and Daniel Island Drive. The TRC, a city planning division that reviews site plans for compliance with city building codes, heard a presentation on May 4 from design consultants Infrastructure Consulting and Engineering that included updates on the site design and a discussion of lingering public opposition to the project.
Representatives from multiple city planning departments make up the TRC, including planning, zoning, traffic & transportation, fire, engineering/MS4, parks, ADA/legal and GIS/addressing. The committee gave the roundabout project, like any other major project that comes before the body, a first look from every angle. Infrastructure Consulting and Engineering engineer Peter Valiquette and Tony Woody from Thomas & Hutton fielded questions on issues ranging from the project’s compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, to the project’s phasing, to the construction materials the firm is planning on using at the intersection.
And while from the design side of things the project is progressing as planned, the TRC did make mention that not everyone on Daniel Island was on board with the plan. TRC members stated that they had received emails on the project from City Councilman Gary White, who represents Daniel Island in District 1.
As reported at the meeting, White reminded the body in an email that some in the community maintained reservations about the choice of a roundabout for the intersection in the first place. Of particular worry, White expressed in his message, was pedestrian and bicycle safety.
TRC members discussed the possibility of funneling the project through the city’s Design Division, its in-house beautification and design studio. City Planner Jacob Lindsay said he was open to considering the idea.
“We have discussed it and it is certainly something that we would want to look at,” said Lindsay. “We’d have to see where it fits in the priority stack before we get back to you because the city Design Center has lots of projects coming through and, that said, I’m not sure what else we can do to make it more pedestrian safe.”
“I really think it’s about educating the community,” responded Woody of Thomas & Hutton, who along with Infrastructure Consulting and Engineering, are consulting on the project. “They’re worried about their children’s safety, which is a legitimate concern. I worry about my child all the time. I think it’s more about just talking with them and getting them comfortable with the roundabout and that the risk of them navigating the roundabout is less than that of a signalized intersection.”
Woody reported that the design team had incorporated the pedestrian signal flashers community members had inquired about at previous public meetings about the project. But aside from that, reported the engineers, the project represented a typical roundabout.
“If you’ve already taken those steps, maybe it’s about looking at any other best practices that could be out there regarding pedestrian safety at the roundabout and then some explanation to the residents about why this is the safest plan,” said Lindsay. “It seems like if this has already been designed with best practices there needs to be some education about that fact.”
“Mitchell Metts, who works with me, has done a great job on that,” continued Woody.
Leaning on Metts’ experience working with the South Carolina Department of Transportation (DOT), Valiquette expressed confidence that the actual construction and use of the intersection will assuage any lingering doubt amongst Daniel Islanders.
“As far as the DOT is concerned, they typically will see a certain level of apprehension in advance of projects, where people are concerned about some of the standard issues were talking about here,” said Valiquette. “But once the project is completed, the public basically learns about the roundabout and the safety level it promotes, and people typically accept it and like it more than a signalized intersection.”
The TRC decided, as is typical with a project so important, to require that the engineering firm revise and resubmit the plan. Lindsay asked the firm to look into any additional best practices regarding pedestrian and bicycle safety that may be out there, while from the city’s end he would make some phone calls and “take the temperature of the community.”
The very fact that the project appeared before the body was a problem for White, who has mandated that an additional public meeting be held on the project sooner rather than later. That gathering, to be hosted by Berkeley County officials and engineers, has now been set for May 25 at 5 p.m. at the Church of the Holy Cross. For White, proceeding with the design of the roundabout before the public had settled on it was like putting the cart before the horse.
“Frankly I was under the opinion that we are going to have a little bit more opportunity to have some more discussion,” said White, after the meeting. “And it’s not that I’m anti-roundabout. It’s really that the emails and the phone conversations that I’m having with residents are specific to pedestrian and bicycle safety.”
“I think the majority of people just want to make sure it’s done the right way,” he continued. White met with city staff and transportation staffers to discuss the project last week.
“It’s a (Berkeley) County project,” he added. “It’s not like we’re driving the ship here at the city, but I just feel like the city needs to make sure that we’ve weighed in and that we are doing everything in our power to make sure this is a pedestrian and bicycle-friendly crossing area.”
“It’s not necessarily our project at the end of the day, but we’ve got to maintain it,” White continued. “We’ve got to make sure that it’s designed appropriately, so we don’t end up having to turn around and redesign it later on.”
The design phase for the roundabout is scheduled to run through the end of the year, with right-of-way acquisition to commence in 2017 and construction set to begin during the summer of 2018.
For more information on the project, see the Berkeley County website dedicated to the project at www.berkeleycountysc.gov/drupal/engineering/onecent/daniel-island-drive-....
PUBLIC INFORMATION SESSION
Thursday, May 25
5 to 6:30 p.m.
Church of the Holy Cross
299 Seven Farms Drive, Daniel Island
Berkeley County officials and highway engineers will host the session to discuss the roundabout design at the intersection of Seven Farms Drive and Daniel Island Drive. Residents can drop-in at any time between 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. to view images of the proposed roundabout and get answers to questions.