Insane. Crazy. Outrageous.
That’s how skeptics are describing a gutsy plan to ease congestion along frenetic Young Circle, where Federal Highway merges with Hollywood Boulevard in one of the most car-clogged gateways to Hollywood.
The novel concept, first pitched by consultant Ian Lockwood two years ago, would make Hollywood the only city in the world with a giant two-way traffic circle. Experts say the redesign, if it gets approved, would actually reduce accidents in fender-bender prone Young Circle.
The proposal — which would take six years and cost up to $20 million — would replace the circle’s seven stoplights with five roundabouts.
Today, traffic flows in one direction around the circle. The new plan would allow for two-way traffic, with cars in the outer lanes traveling counterclockwise as they do now and cars in the innermost lanes traveling clockwise.
Proponents say it could be just what Hollywood needs to improve traffic flow on Young Circle and bring more people downtown.
But not everyone is sold on the plan.
“To me, it’s another stupid idea,” says resident Beverly Grimm.
Jimmy Sklavenitis, owner of the Greek Joint Kitchen & Bar in downtown Hollywood, questions the wisdom of introducing two-way traffic on an enormous rotary that already confuses drivers.
“People drive around the circle now and get lost,” he said. “It doesn’t sound like a good idea.”
Every day, more than 50,000 drivers brave the traffic circle, negotiating three lanes of traffic and seven stoplights.
Hollywood Commissioner Linda Sherwood shared a story about an out-of-town friend who wound up on the circle and didn’t know how to exit.
“He drove around Young Circle 17 times because he couldn’t figure out how to get off,” she said, chuckling.
Some drivers pull dangerous moves, zipping across several lanes to make their turn. An estimated 450 car accidents take place each year along Young Circle, a city-hired consultant said.
Resident Jack Izzo knows firsthand about the dangers of driving there. He had two fender-benders on the circle more than 20 years ago.
“I avoid it all costs,” Izzo said. “I avoid it like the plague. If they make it two-way, it’s going to confuse the crap out of everyone. It’s only going to cause more accidents.”
But adding roundabouts will actually make it safer, said Lockwood, a traffic engineer with the Toole Design Group hired by Hollywood to help fix downtown’s traffic woes.
Young Circle is one of the region’s biggest, measuring one-fifth of a mile around — as big as three football fields.
“This is one of the biggest circles in the world,” Lockwood said. “The circle is so big that we can make the streets two-way.”
How it would work
Right now, drivers turn right to enter the circle, whether they’re coming from the east, west, north or south.
With the redesign, that would not change.
But drivers would yield to cars already in the circle, just as they do when traveling along a roundabout. And in each of the five roundabouts, traffic would travel in a counterclockwise direction. But in the big traffic circle, traffic would flow both ways. Drivers would have the option to travel in a clockwise direction once they reach the innermost lanes.
“With this scheme, it keeps things flowing,” Lockwood said. “You won’t be spending as much time at a red light.”
The project still needs a green light from the state Department of Transportation, the agency that owns and maintains the road.
Guillermo Canedo, a spokesman for the state transportation agency, referred questions to Hollywood, saying it was too early in the game to comment.
Hollywood officials are still working out who would pay for the redesign, Lockwood said.
The money could come from a combination of sources, including federal grants, the state DOT, the Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization and possibly Hollywood’s community redevelopment agency.
“I think all options are on the table,” Lockwood said.
Purging the ugly
Critics may say it’s a nutty idea, but fans say it’s worth a shot.
People heading to the ArtsPark at Young Circle would enter a tranquil oasis filled with so many shade trees it would seem like they were walking through an urban forest. There’d be room for bike lanes and wide sidewalks and parallel or angled parking spaces along the circle.
What’s there now — a freeway-style sea of asphalt — would be transformed into a cool hangout with art sculptures and a canopy of trees.
“It creates a people-oriented public space,” Lockwood said. “What is now a hostile place will become a beautiful place.”
The redesign would make getting to the ArtsPark in the center of Young Circle easier for both people on foot and on bikes, Lockwood says.
“Roundabouts are a whole lot more pedestrian friendly than traffic lights,” Lockwood said. “They’re more conducive to walking and cycling.”
The traffic circle would have 15 safe spots for pedestrians to cross.
“The driver would yield to the pedestrian or the pedestrian would wait for a gap and then cross,” Lockwood said.
The roundabouts would do their job, forcing drivers to slow down, he added.
“Travel time for motorists is literally cut in half [with the new design],” he said, “but with slow and steady speeds as opposed to speeding up and stopping.”
Resident Ann Ralston questioned the plan, especially considering South Florida’s well-earned reputation for erratic drivers.
“That is a disaster waiting to happen,” she said of the redesign. “Can you imagine having the big circle with five little circles inside it? Nobody knows how to drive it now. He said there would be crosswalks and people would just stop. I don’t think so. This is South Florida.”
Longtime Barry Faske likes the idea. He’s just not sure how it will work.
“I thought it was pretty creative,” he said. “As much as I’d like to like it, I’m a little bit skeptical. And I think a lot of people are.”
Hollywood commissioners are keeping the faith.
“I think it is beautiful and it seems practical,” Commissioner Caryl Shuham said this week. “It’s just clever and wonderful. How quick can we get this done?”
Commissioner Kevin Biederman said he was glad to see the idea evolve.
“I know we’re years and years away,” he said. “But it’s nice to see the vision starting to come to light.”
Susannah Bryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4554. Find her on Twitter @Susannah_Bryan.