A great opportunity for Farmville

Published 3:08 pm Thursday, January 19, 2017

In 2017, Longwood and Farmville have a tremendous opportunity to advance our strong partnership, working together to improve the intersection at Griffin, High and Oak. I wanted the community to hear Longwood’s perspective from me as those discussions begin.

Each day, hundreds of Longwood students, faculty and staff — myself included — cross that intersection in vehicles or on foot. Longwood’s absolute top concern is safety. But of course, like any other residents, we’re also eager for a solution that produces less waiting time and an attractive welcome to downtown.

Working on our 2015 Master Plan, Longwood concluded this spot is so important to our community that, if a strong plan could be developed, we would make valuable portions of our adjacent property available.

Experts offered several ideas that would improve the current setup. But one recommendation emerged as by far the strongest option for improving both traffic flow and safety: a roundabout.

Like many, I was initially skeptical, but the research is powerful. Roundabouts — now officially recommended by the Virginia and U.S. Departments of Transportation — offer dramatic safety advantages over alternatives: 40 percent fewer accidents, 75 percent fewer crashes resulting in injury and 90 percent fewer fatal crashes.

And yes, with careful design and crosswalk signaling, the data show roundabouts are also safer for pedestrians and cyclists, not just automobiles. They’re also safer and faster for emergency vehicles.

For localities, roundabouts offer substantial electrical and maintenance cost savings. They don’t stop working during power outages. And because they allow a steady flow of traffic instead of stop-and-go, they can handle up to 50 percent more traffic. 

That’s why about 100 new roundabouts are now being built around Virginia each year, according to VDOT. Community surveys that found skepticism and approval ratings around one-third when roundabouts were first built reported approval surging as high as 80 percent once installed.

A traffic study of this intersection is just beginning, and there will be ample opportunities in the months ahead for the public to weigh in. While Longwood and the commonwealth have an important role, the decision is ultimately up to Farmville.

As we ask the public to keep an open mind, we will too. If reasons emerge why other options work better here, Longwood will, of course, work with the town to develop the best alternative.

However, we do hope a roundabout will be considered with an open mind. We’ve collected some information about roundabouts at http://go.longwood.edu/roundabouts. We invite the community to take a look, and consider whether it’s time for Farmville to join the growing list of communities around Virginia and the world that have taken this step.