Roundabouts Generate Mixed Reactions from Members: NMA E-Newsletter #368

Roundabouts. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, members always respond with passion when we write about them, as we did in last week’s e-newsletter. We thought we would share a few thoughts covering both sides of the issue.

From a New York Member:

One local roundabout cost taxpayers over a quarter of a million dollars while creating an impediment for local rescue squad vehicles which must wait for traffic to clear. Additionally, a great deal of private land was condemned (and taken off the tax rolls) to make way for this roundabout which has effectively increased waiting times for traffic exiting businesses downstream to enter the highway. Formerly the traffic light which controlled the intersection allowed those exiting businesses a lull in traffic during which they could enter the highway.

Not too far from here is a stretch of highway with five roundabouts in a row, all in less than a stretch of five miles. From the air it’s an impressive, if not ludicrous sight.

To me roundabouts seem to be symbolic of the lack of intellect of traffic planners. Any traffic plan which requires detailed signage and involved interpretation can only lead to delays and accidents. Driving is difficult enough without it becoming an intellectual challenge at each intersection.

From a Minnesota Member:

I’m a huge fan of them. When properly designed and used, they greatly reduce gridlock. Many motorists do not understand them and come to complete stops, treating them as four way stops. Other motorists do not understand that you are not supposed to change lanes inside of them. Many of them are designed too small, particularly for trucks that then have to invade several lanes. When roundabouts are installed in areas not having them previously it’s important for the authorities to partner with local media to educate drivers on their correct use.

From Tom Beckett, Arkansas:

I have not encountered most of these, but it all strikes me as an attempt to reinvent the wheel. Traffic engineers must need something to justify their existence.

The real problem to be addressed is driver education. American drivers are horribly inept when it comes to driving through traffic circles; of course they are horribly inept performing a lot of driving maneuvers, judging by the drivers who can’t manage to drive straight ahead without running into things. When I lived near Binghamton, New York, some years back, there was a circle on NY 201 in Johnson City. The accidents and congestion there became such an issue that NYSDOT spent millions replacing it by making a flyover for NY 201, with the other local streets served by a much smaller circle that was accessed by an exit from the state road.

The original circle had slip lanes. They are a great idea, as long as they are used as intended. One of the issues with the circle was that drivers would be in the lane that “slipped” and stop as they approached the circle. At best, this caused congestion, but all too often it led to a rear-end crash. Better signage would have helped, but all the signage in the world isn’t going to do any good if the motorist doesn’t know what he’s doing.

I suppose roundabouts are an attempt to idiot proof intersections; it would work better if we stopped making idiots. But, driver education is not a cost-effective program for schools.

From Jim Burton, New Hampshire:  

I wish you would call them what they are rather than the “cute” British term of “roundabout.” They are “rotaries” here in New England and in the United States. Those who are pushing for more of them here renamed them to make them sound cute and hip.

This style of traffic control works great in rural areas when traffic is light. How many of us have been caught at a light when there are no other vehicles in sight? Well rotaries solve that problem very effectively. When traffic is heavy, however, they tend to cause a lot of accidents from people who do not yield the right-of-way. In the United States, they are installing them in areas where the traffic is the heaviest.

We were in Ireland in early 2015 and traffic control for the entire country is based on roundabouts. In two weeks, I think we encountered only 10 traffic lights. Compared to the United States, traffic is very light in Ireland and everyone knows the proper way to go through a roundabout. We even went through a triple roundabout safely and with ease.

Here in New England, Massachusetts has been removing rotaries as fast as they can, and New Hampshire has been adding them. For the most part, people go out of their way to avoid them, often driving through residential areas. We encountered an accident at a rotary once, and traffic was so snarled that the responding officer had to park his cruiser and walk four blocks down to the accident.

We think they are absolutely horrible and we avoid them whenever we can.

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