Four-way confusion: Stop signs at Rugby Avenue create some chaos

The four-way stop was a flop at Rugby Avenue and Rose Hill Drive, and the traffic signals have been unbagged.
 Photo by Skyclad Aerial The four-way stop was a flop at Rugby Avenue and Rose Hill Drive, and the traffic signals have been unbagged. Photo by Skyclad Aerial

A plan to make the Rugby Avenue and Rose Hill Drive intersection safer for now has some drivers in fear for their lives.

Four-way stop signs went up at the end of March, and the traffic signal was bagged in plastic. Neighborhood website Nextdoor is full of people talking about nearly getting creamed by motorists oblivious to the stop signs.

“I was turning left onto Rose Hill and a person going straight went through the stop sign,” says Zak Billmeier. “I don’t know if there’s been an accident, but the potential is there,” he says.

There have not, in fact, been any accidents recorded, and other residents have found the stop signs an improvement. On Twitter, Mark Griffin says, “as a frequent pedestrian through that intersection, I’m glad to see everyone forced to slow down.”

Billmeier thinks the four-way stop is “probably” a good idea. But he says the problem now is people on Rugby who don’t see a red light, miss the stop signs, and “blow right through.”

The intersection currently has turn lanes at three of the four streets that meet there. “The worst case is seven cars stopped at once,” he says. “Now what? It doesn’t seem super safe.”

The new configuration is in response to citizens’ requests for pedestrian safety going back to around 2011, says Tim Motsch, city transportation project manager, and traffic has gotten worse since the YMCA was built.

Not unusual for Charlottesville, a couple of traffic studies were done.

“Both studies suggest as a first test, cover the signal and install a four-way stop,” says Motsch.

Drivers on Rugby tended to accelerate with the signal. With stop signs, they don’t. “Stop signs inherently make the intersection safer,” says Motsch.

Next up are flexible upright barriers to close the turn lanes. People on Rose Hill heading north look left before turning right onto Rugby, but don’t look right where people might be crossing the street, he says.

But already, traffic coming off the U.S. 250 Bypass is backing up at the intersection. Closing the left turn lanes on Rugby Avenue could make that problem worse. “I don’t doubt it,” says Motsch, who suggests people might want to take an alternate route, like McIntire Road. “Anytime you make it safer for pedestrians, you’re going to slow traffic.”

Depending on how the stop signs work out, the next option, says Motsch, would be to install a new signal with an ADA-compliant, pedestrian-activated signal, estimates for which have run as much as $300,000 to $400,000.

The city has gotten a number of calls and emails since the four-way stop went in, he says, and the response has been pretty evenly split. But Motsch says they’re not looking for a vote. “It’s a safety issue.”

Also in the works is a 1,500-foot, $300,000 sidewalk on the west side of Rose Hill Drive.

“In the future, they’re trying to make it so people can walk to town safely,” says Billmeier.

“I think people are open” to the four-way stop, he says. “As currently implemented, it’s created chaos.”