Art in Roundabouts: Great Placemaking or Added Danger?
An Ordinance Grey Area
How does your municipality address fixed objects and landscaping in the center of a roundabout? Many cities are seeing roundabout islands as a great opportunity to add local art installations, placards, or the ubiquitous “Welcome to…” signage. Some even have a guided driving tour! Adding an element of placemaking can help bring in business and revitalize neighborhoods. But, there are some safety concerns to be addressed.
Both Sides of the Coin
Placing objects such as street art or trees and shrubs in a roundabout island do increase its visibility. Breaking the sightline through the intersection helps drivers identify the intersection as a roundabout, especially at nighttime.
Inevitably, though, a drunk or distracted driver is going to cross through the center island. This roundabout island was designed to eliminate a head-on collision with a vertical wall, but acted as a ramp that resulted in a drunk driving fatality. The beauty of a roundabout is that is eliminates many of the vehicular contact points that are more likely to result in a fatality. But what about the island art or landscape? Should it be designed to break away in the event of a collision?
Logically, there must be different consideration for high-speed, arterial-class intersections and low-
speed urban-class intersections.
The MUTCD and FHWA only reference landscaping and hardscape elements in a general way. In FHWA’s publication “Roundabouts: An Informational Guide” landscaping is encouraged in some ways and limited in others:
- Make the central island more conspicuous;
- Improve the aesthetics of the area while complementing surrounding streetscapes as much as possible;
- Clearly indicate to the driver that they cannot pass straight through the intersection; and
- Discourages pedestrian traffic through the central island.
- Minimize introducing hazards to the intersection, such as trees, poles, walls, guide rail, statues, or large rocks;
- Avoid obscuring the form of the roundabout or the signing to the driver; and
- Maintain adequate sight distances.
In the FHWA recommendation, roundabout improvements are limited to shrubs and groundcovers! In Harford County, Maryland they have a much more precise ordinance guiding roundabout landscaping:
“Roundabouts may be landscaped with a variety of materials and plantings, and all must be approved by Harford County. The outside 6’ of the central island is known as the Perimeter Landscape Zone. Only landscaping plantings are permitted within the Perimeter Landscape Zone, and the landscaping plantings must not exceed a height of 2’ within this zone. The height of any structure, signs, walls, large rocks, etc. shall not exceed the distance from the base of that structure to the inside edge of the 6’ wide perimeter landscape zone. The central island shall be mounded, and not exceed a grade of 6:1.”
What do you think? Has your city encountered this discussion? Should objects in central islands be forgiving to errant drivers? Or is this just another inherent risk of driving a vehicle on a public road?