A roundabout constructed on Daniel Island this summer was promoted as a safe and innovative way to decrease growing traffic and increase pedestrian safety.
But it hasn't been without growing pains.
Four months after the unveiling, some Berkeley County residents have complained about driving headaches, misguided spending and minor car crashes. In the past 20 years, roundabouts have been popping up throughout the Palmetto State and even more of them are on the horizon as civil engineers nationwide look to the infrastructure as a way to streamline traffic in suburban areas.
The roundabout at Seven Farms Drive and Daniel Island Drive opened to the public July 26. The budgeted cost was $2.4 million but it came in almost $900,000 under cost, Berkeley County spokeswoman Hannah Moldenhauer said.
Just 20 years ago there were fewer than 200 roundabouts in the nation, and only one in South Carolina had just been completed, on Hilton Head Island.
The first in the Charleston area was built in Mount Pleasant in 1998, on Mathis Ferry Road to accommodate the I’On subdivision. A Post and Courier article at the time described the roundabout as having “appeared suddenly like something out of space” and said motorists “don’t know what to make of it.”
While roundabouts are more commonplace now, they're still confusing for many drivers.
"I've been honked at, flipped off and almost ran into," said Veronica Johnson, who commutes to work in the area. "So now I just avoid that way for my own sanity. I don't understand why it couldn't be a turn lane with a turn signal."
Johnson's notion for an improved light was actually one that was floated in traffic studies in 2016 and 2017. The traffic light came in at a proposed $1 million. The analysis even showed that traffic would be worsened in the evenings while traveling westbound down Seven Farms Drive, as well as southbound down Daniel Island Drive during the evening commute.
Marie Delcioppo, the Daniel Island Neighborhood president and a newly elected Charleston City Council member, said she's been made aware of several fender benders and other incidents in the roundabout. One driver thought the truck apron on the inner circle was a lane and tried to merge into the circle of traffic. She knows the roundabout is a learning curve but believes it was ultimately the best way to curb increasing traffic.
"A lot of the complaints have diminished," Delcioppo said. "Roundabouts are not foolproof, but I'm not seeing and hearing the severity of complaints when it was an intersection."
The roundabout was funded by the 2014 Berkeley County Sales Tax program. Before it was unveiled this summer, the roundabout was the subject of numerous debates between Daniel Island residents and officials. Many expressed concerns over pedestrian safety; there is a school and two churches where Daniel Island Drive meets Seven Farms Drive.
Jim Wasson, a decade-long resident of Daniel Island, has filed one of the most recent complaints. He told The Post and Courier he witnessed a Mercedes-Benz hop the curb of one of the medians near the pedestrian crosswalks and roll into the traffic circle. It was Halloween night.
"The driver must have thought it was two lanes and jumped the curb," Wasson said. "It was scary because there were children walking around."
Wasson has since flagged the head of the Daniel Island Neighborhood Association's safety committee, Frank Walsh, with concerns. Walsh notified Charleston police on Friday and said cones and barrels will be placed on parking lanes near the roundabout to discourage drivers from confusing them with lanes.
While many of the complaints have been about general ire with the change of the intersection, the number of accidents has not been severe.
Charles Francis, a spokesman for the Charleston Police Department, said between July and November there have not been any pedestrian accidents at the roundabout. There was a reported accident in the roundabout between two cars, as well as two that involved parked vehicles in that same time frame.
Berkeley County Councilman Joshua Whitley, who was a vocal supporter of the project, said the project has been "wildly successful" so far. He also added that he knew the roundabout wouldn't eliminate accidents, but would significantly decrease the severity of them.
Frank Carson, the county engineer, backed up Whitley. He said roundabouts force vehicles to slow down, reduce speed and drastically reduce fatalities without compensating traffic flow. He said choosing a roundabout over an improved intersection was the safest move they could make.
"Roundabouts have a number of advantages in the right situation and with the right design," Carson said.
Roundabout learning curve
Berkeley County's decision to add a roundabout is backed by extensive national research.
Federal Highway Administration statistics illustrate a 35 percent crash reduction for total crashes, 76 percent for crashes with injury and a 90 percent reduction for fatal crashes. This is because the structures eliminate left turns, and the potential to turn across the path of oncoming traffic.
Traffic must slow and yield to enter a roundabout but there are no stop signs or traffic lights — the lack of traffic lights also reduces long-term costs and maintenance. Traffic circles that do have stop signs at the entry points are not considered roundabouts.
More roundabouts are expected to appear in the Lowcountry.
Carson said there are plans to build a roundabout at the intersection of Royle Road and Sangaree Parkway in Berkeley County. Similar to the school traffic at the Daniel Island roundabout, that intersection is close to Sangaree Elementary, Intermediate and Middle schools.
In Dorchester County, Summerville Town Council has authorized spending up to $25,000 to begin designing a roundabout at the Five Points intersection at the southern edge of the town’s Historic District. Many residents who live near the proposed spot were opposed to the idea.
"There is a learning curve with the roundabout," Walsh said. "We've seen some people doing some stupid stuff."