Morgantown’s Roundabout: Poor Planning on the Mileground

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Image from Google Maps. The pre-roundabout Mileground definitely wasn’t short on problems. Traffic often lined up on all sides of the intersection.

The new roundabout replacing the intersection of the Mileground and 705 in Morgantown has been a hot topic, and everyone has an opinion on it . Business-wise, it’s fantastic. This area in general has been booming the past few years, especially with the addition of the Suncrest Towne Centre off of 705. When it comes to safety concerns, this area isn’t too bad either. The new traffic pattern is meant to be safer and easier to use, although many residents argue otherwise.

These aren’t the issues. The problems lie in its core planning.

First, this is built next to a brand-new school, Eastwood Elementary. Elementary schools should be safe and have room for playgrounds and sports. They should be free of pollution–both physical and noise. Maybe it’s because I’m a proud Woodburn Elementary alumna, but there is something wrong with the mentality of closing two schools, one in a thriving neighborhood where students can walk instead of being driven, to build a brand new building in the middle of a dense business zone. Maybe there’s something more wrong with the school board for deciding the busy Mileground is the best place to build an elementary school, but the City of Morgantown should have considered this when building the roundabout. Major traffic areas meant to ease the flow of traffic have no place in what is supposed to be a 15 MPH zone (although they get around it legally by having a fence according to the school board).

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Image from Google Maps. This is what the roundabout looks like compared to the former intersection. It is poorly placed by an elementary school and by many sources of pollution.

According to WVU student and “townie” Bradley Gerber, the roundabout seems smaller than it should be.

“If a school bus is coming in there, it can be really difficult for it to maneuver around safely in a traffic circle. I haven’t seen what it looks like when [school] lets out, but I can imagine how difficult it is.”

Gerber takes the roundabout every day on his way to and from WVU.

“I’ve come up there before and it’s just completely blocked at the traffic circle.”

Luckily, that’s usually not the case because his class schedule doesn’t line up with rush hour.

Second, you have to look at Morgantown’s demographics: there are a whole lot of college students. Proponents for the roundabout have pointed to the success of Fairmont, W.Va.’s roundabouts, but Fairmont doesn’t have an unsteady population that’s ever changing. Every year parts of Morgantown’s population turns over when the new freshmen class comes in. This population is new, probably hasn’t seen a roundabout before and their families are not guaranteed to understand it, either. The roundabout would be more suitable for a non-college town without move-in days, family weekends and huge football games.

Don’t get me wrong, some people really do like it. Jimmy’s Sunoco station on the Mileground always had people pull into their parking lot to turn around and avoid waiting in traffic. That has virtually stopped with the traffic circle. However, between it’s location by an elementary school and the number of drivers that don’t have time to learn a new traffic pattern, the roundabout doesn’t belong on the Mileground.

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14 thoughts on “Morgantown’s Roundabout: Poor Planning on the Mileground

  1. Pingback: Morgantown Problems | Eco Media

  2. Hi Emily,

    I enjoyed reading this post because it got me thinking about a story I did a while back, while the discussions for building the new elementary school were still on-going. I interviewed a man whose son attended Woodburn Elementary, but who was going to be shifted to the new elementary school on the Mileground. This father started a neighborhood group and ended up suing the School District over the proposed school on the Mileground, because he didn’t believe it was a good location thanks to the pollution/car exhaust fumes the students would be exposed to. I’d be curious to know his thoughts now, because he was concerned about the location before the roundabout was even a thought. Personally, every time I’m driving the roundabout and see a school bus entering or leaving the school, I get very nervous because I would hate to see any innocent children get hurt in a bus accident. I’m sure the dad I interviewed is angry about the roundabout, and I would love to know how he thinks it impacts when dropping off/picking up his son from the new school.

    • Thanks! I know there were a lot of people against the closing of Woodburn Elementary because I’m pretty tied into that community. I don’t know too much about the other school that closed, but people were definitely passionate about Woodburn. It was located was a small neighborhood where the students would walk to school. At least when I went there, it was a very diverse population of students and that made it really unique for Morgantown. I haven’t heard too much about it recently, though either.

    • Roundabouts have an apron built in that are designed for large vehicles to be able to drive up on in order to easily navigate the roundabout (e.g., tractor-trailer, school bus, etc.). There’s no need to be nervous. It’s not like we’re all learning to drive space vehicles here. It’s just a roundabout. That’s coming from someone born/raised/having lived in WV all his life. It took me about 2 seconds to figure out my first roundabout, and no time at all to figure out the one in Morgantown.

  3. Emily,

    I’m sure that the elementary school was a major consideration when Morgantown decided to build the roundabout. I’d be curious to know how much that factor played into the decision though.

  4. Good use of links, but it was almost overwhelming for me. I ended up coming across so many that I didn’t click all of them. This was a great post because I was wondering about the pros and cons of this, but I never researched it. I was wondering how the elementary school worked with the roundabout. How one influenced the other, how one helped/didn’t help the other, etc. It will be interesting to reconnect with this post and write about the updates on the roundabout. If it’s accomplished what it was set out to do, number of accidents, etc.

    • Good point.
      There will definitely be updates on this. It’s one of the biggest changes in Morgantown within the past year or two. Hopefully, it does help traffic, reduce accidents, etc., but I’m skeptical.

  5. As someone who drives the roundabout several times a day, I share some of your concerns, especially those about the city’s decision to shake up the schools in the area. I would also agree that the roundabout isn’t easy for pedestrian traffic to navigate.
    But I disagree with the idea that we shouldn’t build something just because people aren’t familiar with it. If one simply follows the traffic signs, the roundabout is easy to understand and traverse. The way we’ve been writing about the roundabout, we’re assuming there’s a learning curve we have to respect. For people in a new city, the traffic patterns will always be hard to understand at first – for example, the first time I drove into Pittsburgh via I-79, the maze of sprawling concrete bridges confused the heck out of me.
    I don’t think we should be catering to the inexperienced, especially when we have the option to build something as effective as the roundabout. Roundabouts are becoming more popular in the states, so I think the rest of the country will be seeing more of them soon. That may put your concerns about the learning curve to rest, no?
    I don’t know enough about the school construction issues to speak on that, but I can agree that it probably wasn’t the best idea to build a school, a place with statistically higher amounts of pedestrians, near a traffic pattern that gives them no quarter.

    • Thanks for your comment, Bryan!
      I agree to an extent, but for Morgantown to be the 3rd location of a roundabout in West Virginia seems a little antsy. It would have been better to put them in other parts of the state that don’t have sporadic traffic. Between move in day (which sees over 5,000 new families driving through town), families coming into town for specific events, football games, etc. there are a lot of people who aren’t natives driving that road.
      And we should be catering to the inexperienced when it comes to traffic planning because it’s a safety issue, and it just makes sense when you look at the demographics. A stable population can learn a roundabout in a short amount of time by taking it slow and practice, practice, practice. People just passing through don’t have that kind of time. At least not until these start to catch on to the point that they are a staple in everyday driving for the majority of Americans
      Pittsburgh is a great example. It’s incredibly hard to navigate those roads (especially when your GPS can’t tell the difference between the distances of roads).That doesn’t mean we should say “oh, well–traffic planning is what it is.” The goal of planning is to create a better version–to be safe but also easy and navigable based on your demographics and situation. I think the roundabout fell short on that.

  6. Good continuation of the series, although as I noted to Whitney, the parts should be more clearly marked (e.g., “Third in our three-part series on roundabouts”). This has a decent identity of its own: Outcomes. One shortcoming is that it only gets individual perspectives – you have several drivers saying it’s worse, but what information can the city provide to support or counter this (for reference, I use it at different times throughout the week and have never been backed up more than a minute)?

  7. I think this is an interesting perspective about the new roundabout. I haven’t used the Mileground roundabout an awful lot, but when I have, I haven’t had any problems navigating it. I also have not faced any backups in the direction I was headed, however I did see some minor backups in the opposite direction. But, it was nothing like the backup that used to be caused by the intersection. I hadn’t really considered the fact about school buses having to use it, and I could see how they could potentially clog up the flow of traffic. But, with my experience, I have had no problem with the roundabout at all.

  8. Good job at picking a controversial topic. I did a news story for WVU News about this. I interviewed a worried (and mad) Dad, along with the man behind the plan. I honestly don’t see the big deal. People will ALWAYS complain. They complain about sitting in traffic behind a light. They complain about traffic that moves (constant) through a roundabout. From the info I researched, the parents who complained about it were mad at the new consolidation and location of the Eastwood. So, they complained about EVERYTHING associated with it. I’m sure the experts who plan this know a lot more about it than ordinary people.

  9. Pingback: Morgantown Problems | New Beginnings for the Morgantown Problems Blog

  10. I’ve traversed, succesfully if not confidently, many roundabouts in several states. This one in Morgantown is by far the most poorly designed of all. Could it be because it’s an oval??? Whatever, those who planned this one did a bad job of it.

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