College Street roundabout impacts community

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Students from Alexander II Magnet School watched the grand opening of the roundabout.

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Several long months of road work on and around College Street culminated in the opening of the College Street and Oglethorpe Street roundabout, the first ever in Macon, allowing traffic once again to flow – more smoothly than before, for most.

When construction on College and Oglethorpe streets began in the semester, students and community members alike found that they had to take alternate paths to reach their destinations.  Particularly troublesome may have been the travel patterns of those headed to Alexander II Magnet School.

On this revamped traffic pattern and the roundabout, Alex II principal Bertha Caldwell said, “The roundabout itself is beautiful, and the changes to the neighborhood are good, but the impact has been difficult for us as a school because we don’t have buses, so all of our students ride by car or walk to the school. Right now, the problem that is still happening is for the parents who walk across the street to pick up students. The work has left them crossing illegally; I’m concerned with all of the cars that an accident may occur. If we could get a crosswalk where traffic could stop for parents and children crossing, that might help.”

Caldwell clarified that safety for walkers may not have been considered when all of the focus lied on travel by car: “They moved the parking lot that parents are using, and it’s now further back.  Parents say that it’s inconvenient. It will get better because they will get used to it, but sometimes it’s hard to break old habits. It’s just human behavior to do what we’ve always done.”

She ensured that, in terms of driving, the work on the roundabout and on College Street has been very efficient. “The traffic flow is going fairly well, however, because we have made that only one way in and one way out. That has helped the flow of carpool traffic; both car traffic and walking traffic have gone faster and better than expected, but the only inconsideration has been for walking parents.” Whereas parents used to park in the Tattnall Square Park tennis court parking lot and merely walk across the street, they must now walk across a large area of the park just to reach the street.

In addition to the roundabout, construction on College Street also included parallel parking spots for Alex II, Phase III of the Lofts at Mercer, and Tattnall Square Park. When asked about the transformation with respect to the park, Friends of Tattnall Square Park chair Andrew Silver stated, “The perimeters of a park are its best advertisements.  I asked my students last semester to describe in one word their first impressions of the park.  All of them first saw the park from College Street… The most common description?  ‘Sketch’ or ‘sketchy.’  Now we’ve got a beautiful landscape that gives the message that we are a progressive, safe, walkable urban community—the kind of place where you want to live and play.”

Silver says that the work is not completed yet.  Although “the ‘road diet’ is important for students and pedestrians crossing College Street by bike or by foot, and the pedestrian scale lighting has already made College Street a favorite walking space near dusk,” Silver said that the organization hopes “to complete the perimeter sidewalk this semester, along with additional sidewalks within the park, so we hope this will become the jogging track for Macon and Mercer.”

Mercer University Chief of Staff Larry Brumley mirrors Silver’s sentiment, explaining that the park “is heavily used by Mercer students, faculty and staff” and that work on the park came about as a result of the roundabout project.  He continued, “Completion of the city’s first roundabout and other College Street improvements not only provide for a more beautiful gateway to the Mercer campus from downtown, they also enhance safety for vehicles, pedestrians and bicycles by calming the traffic along that block.”

Caldwell, Silver and Brumley were all present for the August 15 grand opening, which was also attended by other Mercer faculty, staff and students as well as Macon denizens, including classes from Alex II and representatives from the College Hill Alliance.

At the opening, Bibb County School System Superintendent Steve Smith, Mercer President Bill Underwood, SPLOST Advisory Chairman Jeffery Monroe, and Mayor Robert Reichert took the inaugural lap around the roundabout, with Underwood in a vintage orange Mercer-decaled truck sporting a large flag of Mercer pride.  Following these leaders were students from an Alex II class.

That same weekend, however, the roundabout evidently proved too complicated for one driver, who drove straight through it rather than following its rules. This driver cut through the middle of the roundabout, leaving tire tracks on the grassy center.

Although some drivers may need to accustom themselves to this new traffic piece, Brumley believes that traffic will calm down because of the roundabout: “That is particularly important with the opening of the new student loft apartments on College Street and with completion of the Tattnall Square Center for the Arts, which will be the new home of Mercer Theatre beginning in January.”