So you’re waiting to enter Tallmadge Circle, neck swung over your left shoulder as you try to figure out which of the cars coming around the curve are turning off and which intend to pass you by.
Nobody is using turn signals, but you think you’ve got it figured out. You press the accelerator and attempt to enter the steady whirlpool of metal, glass and rubber.
It happens. Every three or four days, as a matter of fact.
When it comes to sheer number of traffic accidents, nothing comes close to Tallmadge Circle, that eight-spoked hub that has stymied white-knuckled drivers for decades.
But when the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study applies a severity index to crashes throughout its coverage area in Summit and Portage counties, the undisputed king of the fender benders falls to No. 25 on the agency’s list of concerns.
No. 1 is where Martin Luther King Boulevard, North Howard Street and Main Street merge at downtown Akron’s northern edge.
There have been 70 crashes there over the past three years — far fewer than Tallmadge Circle’s 284 — but the frequency and the level of injuries that do happen are way out of whack given the lower traffic volume, said David Pulay, AMATS’ transportation engineer.
If you regularly drive that route, you know the issues.
Martin Luther King goes from being a 55 mph freeway to just another downtown Akron road in the space of a few heartbeats, and it does it while going around a curve and up an incline. Add in Howard Street’s roller coaster topography and Main Street’s own pre-intersection curve, “and you definitely have to pay attention,” Akron Traffic Engineer Dave Gasper said. “Every direction has something you don’t expect.”
There is a lot of good news in the latest AMATS report, however.
The number of troublesome spots has been declining steadily for years.
This year, 263 intersections and 123 road segments landed on the list, meaning they had at least 10 crashes over a three-year period, with a rate of at least one crash per million approach vehicles. They accounted for 12,398 accidents between 2010 and 2012.
But consider that in 2003-2005, there were 394 intersections and 147 road segments making the cut, accounting for 18,725 collisions.
Safety projects throughout the region have played a significant role, Pulay said.
Here’s more insight about roads and traffic trends in the area:
The region’s fairly new love affair with roundabouts — seven have been installed in Summit County since 2006 — might be justified by the recent AMATS report.
Two of the former crash-worthy intersections have fallen off the agency’s radar entirely since roundabouts were installed.
Riverview and Smith roads in Akron’s Merriman Valley (which ranked No. 9 on the list of worst intersections in 2003-2005) and South Hametown and Ridgewood roads in Copley Township (No. 126 on that earlier list) are nowhere to be found in the 2010-2012 survey.
Two other 3-year-old roundabouts have seen a slight increase in crashes, which Pulay attributes to a “learning curve” as residents adapt to the features, which were common in Europe and other areas of the world long before coming to America. However, the severity of the crashes at those sites has fallen significantly.
A good roundabout works because entrance points gently curve to the right so cars are already facing the proper direction when they enter the roundabout. Dangerous T-bone collisions are all but impossible.
So while the Tallmadge roundabout at East Howe Road, Munroe Road and Northeast Avenue has seen 30 crashes over the past three years, compared to 24 in the 2003-2005 period when there was still a stoplight at the intersection, recent accidents have been almost exclusively property-only damages.
Likewise, accidents at Massillon and Steese roads in Green grew from 24 between 2003-2005 to 27 the past three years, but a formula AMATS uses to judge the severity of an accident shows a big drop in that category.
“Studies show that overall, roundabouts reduce crashes by 38 percent, injuries by 76 percent, and fatalities by 90 percent,” Pulay said.
Two other roundabouts didn’t make AMATS list in either period: Martha Avenue in Akron and Ridgewood and Jacoby roads on the Copley/Fairlawn border.
The seventh roundabout — at Glenwood Drive and Liberty Road in Twinsburg — is the only one to have joined the list in 2010-2012 when it was not on the list in 2003-2005. It’s not clear why there have been more accidents in recent years. The city’s planning director, Larry Finch, couldn’t think of any changes at the intersection to account for increased activity.
However, this is the first full year of operation for the new roundabout, so its impact won’t register with AMATS for a couple of more years.
Ups and downs
Four of the worst 10 intersections a decade ago have been scratched from the list entirely.
In addition to the Riverview/Smith junction that has turned into a successful roundabout, awards for improvements could go to:
• State Route 261 and Campus Center Drive in Kent, ranked the No. 3 worst intersection in 2003-2005. The once-notorious site — a popular route for folks accessing Kent State University from the south — had a traffic signal installed in 2004.
• Darrow Road and Terex Road in Hudson, once No. 5 on the list. The site has since received turn lanes and new signals, Pulay said.
• South Arlington Road and Second Avenue in Akron, once No. 6. That site “was confusing because the I-76 westbound exit ramp is also part of intersection, along with Martin Street on the west side,” Pulay said. “There were a lot of left-turn crashes. Over the years the city has improved the signals with brighter and smarter ones.”
Of course, dropping some roads off the list made room for others to move up, though it’s not always obvious why.
The intersection of Broadway and Exchange in downtown Akron has climbed from No. 201 in AMATS’ 2003-2005 list to No. 10 this year.
Akron’s traffic engineer can’t explain it, although he noted there has been some increased activity in the area, including new student housing.
“This is one area where I’d like to analyze the crashes and see if we can spot a trend,” Gasper said.
Most accidents happen at intersections, where drivers might not be paying attention to traffic lights and changes in the speed of cars around them.
But there are segments of fairly straight road that challenge motorists as well.
The most accident-prone segment of road in the two counties is Massillon Road in Green. The one-mile stretch between Boettler Road and Turkeyfoot Lake Road (state Route 619) witnessed 150 accidents in three years.
There are multiple lanes to navigate, with traffic coming off I-77, other traffic trying to get onto the interstate and more cars entering and exiting dozens of businesses.
Meanwhile, state Route 59 in Portage County’s Ravenna Township — specifically, the 2.5 miles between state Route 261 and Brady Lake Road — racked up 146 accidents in the same period.
But when AMATS applies its severity index to the list, Martin Luther King Boulevard rises to the top again, this time because of the curve that leads to the intersection with Main and Howard.
There are a lot of one-vehicle crashes there, Pulay said, and the recent report included a fatality and some overturned trucks.
“People misjudge the curve,” Pulay said. That curve comes up just as people need to start thinking about slowing down for the traffic light ahead.
Akron also hosts the second-worst road segment, when the severity index is applied. West Exchange Street, between Dart and Rhodes Avenue, had 52 crashes in spite of its relatively low traffic load of fewer than 8,000 cars a day. (To put that into perspective, other road segments on the Top 10 list see up to 36,000 cars a day.)
Akron’s Gasper chalks up this problem site to “one-way street syndrome.”
Strangely, a lot of folks driving on one-way streets that span three or four lanes don’t think of the far left lane as a traveling lane. As a result, many people turning left do so from the second lane in, colliding with vehicles following along the curb.
“That is a consistent problem,” Gasper said. “It’s a weird phenomena that we’ve talked about for years.”
The city has done a variety of things to help the issue on this and other one-way roads downtown, including putting in solid white lines between the lanes, arrows on the pavement and more signage.
Nothing seems to help.
“One idea we’ve talked about was making it a three-lane road and putting a bike lane [in the far left lane],” Gasper said. The hope is that drivers would know better than to try to turn left from three lanes over.
There are no plans to implement that strategy yet, but there are some areas scheduled for a makeover, including two of the worst intersections on the AMATS list.
At South Arlington Street and East Waterloo Road in Akron (No. 3 on the list), an analysis shows yield signs that allow continuous right turns are confusing motorists.
“What seems to be happening is the first guy is waiting for a gap in traffic, and the second guy doesn’t think he has to stop, so you get rear-end crashes,” Gasper said.
The Ohio Department of Transportation has agreed to pay 90 percent of the costs of eliminating the yield lanes and turning Arlington and Waterloo into a traditional intersection with 90-degree turns at the stop light. Construction will take place in the next couple of years, Gasper said.
In Springfield Township, improvements to U.S. 224 at Canton Road — the fifth worst intersection in the area — are in the design phase. Funding hasn’t been secured, but ODOT would like to widen the south side of the intersection to allow for two left-turn lanes onto 224, add an eastbound right-turn lane and lengthen the southbound left-turn lane.
Meanwhile, Tallmadge Circle might be notorious, but it is not without hope.
Tallmadge Mayor David Kline said the city has been working with ODOT on a study for nearly two years.
“We have to make some decisions about what to do to try to mitigate” the situation, Kline said.
One option would be to steer some traffic away before it gets to the circle.
Every car entering the circle is trying to get to one of eight roads. If there were an “outer loop” before cars got to the circle, motorists would have an opportunity to connect to their destination road before joining the congestion at the center.
“We’re taking a look at that,” Kline said.
By the numbers
For folks who love statistics, here are some other facts about Summit and Portage county accidents over the past three years:
• Age: Drivers ages 16 to 25 are responsible for more than 40 percent of all accidents and more than 25 percent of all fatalities. Experts chalk it up to lack of experience and that youths don’t calculate risk well. Senior drivers account for 14 percent of all crashes. As people age, issues with vision and reaction time play a role.
• Time and location: More than a quarter of all accidents occur between 3 and 5 p.m.; one-third of all accidents are rear-end collisions; 46 percent of accidents occur at an intersection; and 17 percent take place on the freeway.
• Injury and death: In 2012, accidents resulted in 4,173 injuries and 44 fatalities (in both cases, an improvement from 2011.) Fatalities tend to occur after 8 p.m. and usually involve speeding, loss of control and hitting a fixed object.
• Bikes and pedestrians: In 2012, bikes were involved in 103 accidents and pedestrians were involved in 148 accidents (in both cases, an improvement from 2011.) Children age 12 and younger were involved in 21 percent of the bike-related accidents and 12 percent of the pedestrian-related crashes.
• Alcohol: Alcohol was a factor in only 4 percent of area crashes over the past three years but was a factor in 44 percent of fatal crashes. Accidents of this nature peak around 2 a.m.
AMATS prepares its reports based on crash records provided by the Ohio Department of Public Safety. As the agency responsible for transportation planning in the area, AMATS uses this information to identify needed projects throughout the area. Communities rely on the report when applying for Highway Safety Program funds through ODOT.
To see the agency’s full report, visit www.amatsplanning.org.