North Chattanooga 'minicircle' getting test

North Chattanooga 'minicircle' getting test

April 5th, 2014 by Alex Harris in Local Regional News

Motorists navigate a new "minicircle" at Mississippi Avenue and Tremont Street in North Chattanooga.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

Illustration by Laura McNutt /Times Free Press.


• When approaching the Tremont Street-Mississippi Avenue 'mini-circle," motorists should stay to the right, follow the signage and be on the lookout for other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.

• Drivers approaching from Tremont should heed the stop sign and wait for Mississippi Avenue traffic before proceeding.

Source: Chattanooga Administrator of Transportation Blythe Bailey

The city is taking steps to address traffic safety concerns of residents who live near or travel through a busy North Chattanooga intersection.

A temporary "traffic minicircle," not a roundabout, has been set up at the intersection of Mississippi Avenue and Tremont Street to allow the city's Department of Transportation to study its effectiveness in addressing speed and pedestrian safety issues.

"The reason that we distinguish between the two is a roundabout generally takes up more space, and a minicircle is intended for neighborhoods to beautify intersections and also make it safer from a traffic standpoint," said Blythe Bailey, head of the city's Department of Transportation.

City officials have fielded a number of requests over the years to address traffic safety issues at that intersection, which is near Normal Park Lower School.

"Limited sight distance, free flow of traffic along the steep portion of Mississippi Avenue, which can encourage unsafe travel speeds through the intersection, and the presence of a large number of children and other pedestrians" are among the conditions affecting safety at the intersection, Bailey wrote in an email.

Chattanooga City Councilman Jerry Mitchell, who represents the area, said motorists tend to speed down the steep Mississippi Avenue hill.

"I think there are a lot of parents of Normal Park - both Lower and Upper School - that let their kids walk to school, and they're very concerned, especially when cars are coming down the hill on Mississippi and accelerate too fast," he said.

Residents and parents had initially sought a four-way stop for that intersection, Mitchell said.

However, Bailey said that a minicircle was chosen as the best solution because it provides balance between traffic flow and caution.

"Without requiring all traffic to stop from all directions, this allows the dominant street, which is Mississippi, to continue to free flow through the intersection, but with caution because of the minicircle," Bailey said.

Motorists who first encountered the "minicircle" appeared to be confused about how to navigate what appears to be a roundabout in miniature.

The city's transportation department tries to identify areas where modifications can be made to make the streets safer in quick, inexpensive and reversible ways, Bailey said.

The current minicircle is "a test," meaning that it's a "minicircle in function," and the department will evaluate it over the next month to determine whether it will work as a permanent solution.

"If we continue to evaluate that intersection and determine that a stop sign might be a better solution, then it's still on the table," Bailey said.

There is no cost associated with the temporary minicircle at this time, Bailey said, although there might be some improvement cost once the permanent solution for the intersection is determined.

However, that cost is "marginal" when the improvement to safety at that intersection is considered, Bailey added.

Contact staff writer Alex Harris at aharris@times or 423-757-6592.