Group ranks Orchard Lake Road/14 Mile most dangerous intersection

Road Commission disagrees

By: Sherri Kolade | C&G Newspapers | Published April 6, 2017

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FARMINGTON HILLS/WEST BLOOMFIELD — Public officials have a lot to say about the Orchard Lake Road/14 Mile Road roundabout — but the overall message is for drivers to be patient and vigilant on the road.

The discussion is centered around the Farmington Hills-based Michigan Auto Law group’s 2016 report on the top 20 most dangerous intersections in Michigan that have the highest number of car accidents. 

According to the group’s website, www.michiganautolaw.com, the stats include any accident that occurred within 250 feet of an intersection, including turnarounds and highway on/off ramps.

The report lists the Orchard Lake Road/14 Mile Road intersection as the most dangerous intersection in the state, with a total of 163 reported crashes last year — 27 of them resulting in injuries.

The data was pulled from the Michigan State Police Traffic Crash Reporting Unit, according to Michigan Auto Law.

Michigan Auto Law attorney Todd Berg said the group has requested the data from the Michigan State Police and compiled the list for a few years. 

“We do this as a public service,” he said. “We do this because we are concerned about public safety.”

Other cities on the list include Warren, Center Line, Sterling Heights, Roseville, Southfield and Chesterfield Township.

“It’s important for people to know where the high-frequency crashes are and be extra cautious at whichever intersection or maybe take a different route,” Berg said.

Lori Dougovito, of the Michigan State Police public affairs section, said the state police pulled the specific data the group requested, but the state police didn’t create the report.

Orchard Lake Road, an Oakland County-owned road, is one that Craig Bryson — public information officer for the Road Commission for Oakland County — said is a high-traffic-volume intersection. He said the law group is not looking at crash rates or severity and that the group didn’t formulate the crashes correctly. He said the group classed all of the crashes as “dangerous,” when some of them “were not dangerous at all,” Bryson said, specifically referring to the Farmington Hills/West Bloomfield intersection.

“What we’ve always seen is high-traffic-volume intersections always have more crashes than lower-volume intersections,” Bryson said. “The traffic volume can be high or low regardless if it is a roundabout.”

He added that when looking at the crash rates, people should consider the types of crashes that occur. 

“From our point of view, the crash rate is a more useful number than the raw number of crashes,” he said. “We analyze data constantly, but we are looking at the crash rate.”

He said the Road Commission also looks at the types of crashes.

“What the law firm didn’t do is tell you whether those crashes are serious injuries or whether they are very minor crashes,” he said. “What we know from looking at and analyzing the data is that the roundabouts ... are very minor crashes with very little injuries,” he said. “So we are more interested in an intersection that has fewer total crashes but where there are more serious injury crashes or fatalities.”

Bryson said that if one intersection, for example, had 100 minor injury crashes and another intersection had 20 fatalities, the latter intersection is a “much more serious problem” because the crashes are more serious.

Karen Mondora, assistant public services director for Farmington Hills, echoed similar thoughts and said the law group study is “certainly concerning” to the city of Farmington Hills and its traffic engineer.

“The data surprised us a little bit — we’re going to do a total crash evaluation of the intersection so we can get some more detail and try and understand exactly what is happening out there,” she said, adding that the city was also concerned that the data had been incorrectly categorized. 

“Perhaps they weren’t looking at the crash rate. They might be looking at the frequency of crashes versus the rate of crashes per vehicle traveling through the intersection, as opposed to just a lump sum.”

Mondora said the intersection “moves a lot of vehicles” each day.

“So it would make sense that it might have more crashes than a less-traveled intersection; we want to see how it really measures up,” she said. “This is just one report of those numbers, so is it really an accurate portrayal? That is what we will be looking into.”

She added that if the statistics indicate that the intersection is “truly dangerous,” officials will look at improvements.

Berg said many people don’t necessarily know how to navigate roundabouts, and the group’s website offers information on how to safely do so. He added that no one has reached out to his law firm to inform them that their study is wrong.

“Critics have not contacted me to let me know it was in error,” he said. 

West Bloomfield Township Supervisor Steven Kaplan said that the number of injury accidents has subsided “dramatically” ever since the roundabout was installed several years ago.

“Whatever statistics this law firm is referring to, they are incorrect,” Kaplan said. “We know that because we know the number of ambulances we dispatch to that area. The collisions that occur in a roundabout are of low velocity; essentially, you are talking about one vehicle striking another vehicle from behind. … We don’t have T-bone incidents or head-to-head collisions in any roundabout.”

He said that sometimes accidents can occur if a driver realizes he or she is in the wrong lane and veers over — that could be a design issue with the way a roundabout is structured.

He said one fix could be changing the traffic signal timing on Orchard Lake and Northwestern Highway, and on 14 Mile and  Northwestern Highway, allowing for equal access to each roundabout.

He added that it is about improving the quality of life for “our motorists.”

For more information on the Michigan Auto Law group’s report, go to www.michiganautolaw.com/blog.

Staff Writer Terry Oparka contributed to this report.

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