Roundabouts, changes could come to Herschel, St. Johns

Roundabouts, changes could come to Herschel, St. Johns
The site of a proposed roundabout at the bend in the “S curve” that joins Herschel Street and St. Johns Avenue.

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is floating plans to slow traffic and add greenspace to Herschel Street and St. Johns Avenue in Avondale, and area residents have so far expressed a mix of reservation and optimism.

FDOT presented proposals at the end of January to replace two stoplights with roundabouts, narrow roadways and add medians, during a public meeting at its offices on Edison Avenue. The proposals are loosely termed a ‘road diet’ – a buzz word for a national trend to slow down traffic and add more vegetation and pedestrian access. The cost for the project is estimated at $1.2 million, according to FDOT public documents, and includes striping and medians along the thoroughfare, which joins Herschel Street and St. Johns Avenue. Construction could begin in early 2021.

An overview of the proposed project.
An overview of the proposed project.

For now, FDOT is aiming to replace two signals, one at the confluence of St. Johns Avenue, Herschel Street and Geraldine Drive and the one at the St. Johns Avenue and Herschel Street intersection south of Woodmere Drive.  It also includes medians and striping between Canterbury Street and Melrose Avenue. A group of Woodmere residents attended the hearing, mostly mothers and grandmothers who have lived in the area a long time, saying they felt the project would worsen traffic on their road and make it less safe for children to cross to Fishweir Elementary. Yet others on Woodmere and beyond liked the idea and expressed their thoughts during the meeting where the room was filled nearly to capacity.

Tom Turnage, who owns Turnage Realty Company in the 4000 block of Herschel Street, said before public comments that he had concerns about safety and after many years in the area had seen plenty of accidents and potential ones at the signal. So, he liked the idea.

“I’m generally in favor of the roundabouts. I do have concerns right in front of St. Johns Avenue. I think it will make it less commercial, more residential.”

Carl Freedman on Woodmere Drive also expressed support during public comments at the meeting, saying he believed the plan was well thought out and safer for pedestrians. “The roundabouts significantly slow down the traffic,” he explained. “People in Florida are not used to roundabouts and that will take things to a much slower speed. It seems that roundabouts cause people to have a much higher degree of civility.”

But Debra Harris, who also lives on Woodmere Drive, expressed reservations during public comments as did several neighbors who came with her. They were worried that children wouldn’t have the protection of a traffic light to cross to Fishweir Elementary School from across the street if a roundabout was built. She also said that too much traffic already cuts east to west through their street from Roosevelt Boulevard onto Herschel despite newer traffic laws that they say aren’t being enforced. Their concerns echoed research from Rice University showing that controversy over road diets often hinges on worries that slowing down traffic in one play could shift it onto other streets, causing more problems, although Rice’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research has shown such traffic calming plans can also be effective.

“I have lived in this area since 1971,” Harris said. “I personally am opposed to both these roundabouts; I don’t think they are necessary. I don’t think we have a traffic problem on Herschel Street. I think the secondary streets are where we have the problem with commercial traffic, with speeding. And about the elementary: With this roundabout here, and the traffic signal gone, there won’t be a way to stop the traffic. All it takes is one kid to get hit, folks. We cannot have a police officer there every day.”

If the project continues to move forward, FDOT estimates that construction would be complete in fall 2021.

By Jennifer Edwards
Resident Community News

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