Margaret's Musings: Round and round you go - Roundabouts are here to stayTwo recent incidents caused me to consider the roundabout. We received a driver’s license renewal notice from the State of Wisconsin which included a detailed instruction sheet on how to drive ‘around’ a roundabout. Secondly, we navigated a roundabout at the intersection of Cemetery Road and Hwy. 35 in River Falls.
By: Margaret Ontl, Hudson Star-Observer
Two recent incidents caused me to consider the roundabout. We received a driver’s license renewal notice from the State of Wisconsin which included a detailed instruction sheet on how to drive ‘around’ a roundabout. Secondly we navigated a roundabout at the intersection of Cemetery Road and Hwy. 35 in River Falls enroute to a piano recital in Ellsworth.
Why are roundabouts the new preferred choice for intersections? Who is pushing for their construction? Do drivers like them?
It seems the rotary, as it is known in other areas of the country and the world, is a distant cousin to modern day roundabouts. As a child I still remember the near terror when my dad drove into the Cumberland Circle in suburban Chicago. It is a European style rotary at the junction of three major roads U.S. Route 14, Illinois Route 58, Wolf Road and the Union Pacific Northwest train line. As a child, is seemed fast and dangerous. It was a true rarity in the Midwest and it still exists with virtual no changes since it was installed in the 1950s.
Later in life, I discovered the traffic circle was more common on the East Coast and in Europe. The rules, as my Italian relatives explained, were that the car whose bumper was furthest forward had the right-away. Honking also played a role.
The modern roundabout originated in England in the late ‘60s.
“They have different features,” said Greg Helgeson, Traffic Safety Engineer, NW Region, Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation. “It makes them quite different from the rotary or traffic circles as we knew them.” According to Helgeson, the first modern roundabout was built in Las Vegas and the states of Colorado and Kansas became the national leaders in the push for roundabouts as viable alternatives to traditional intersection controls such as traffic lights or stop signs. “They were willing to take the risk and try it.”
“Hudson was the first interchange to have a roundabout in the state,” said Helgeson of the Hanley Road and Hwy. 35 intersection. That was in 2005.
According to Helgeson, it is hard to dispute the crash data. At a traditional intersection there are 32 conflict points. In a roundabout there are eight. The angle of approach is flattened and the speed is very slow, both of which contribute to a 35 to 40 percent crash reduction and 70 to 80 percent fatality reduction.
“You don’t have the T-bone crashes,” said Helgeson. “They move the traffic well. They are a good fit but there has to be a need for it.”
The WisDOT criteria for placement of roundabouts suggests these considerations: high crash rate locations; intersections with large traffic delays; complex geometry (more than four approach roads) or frequent left-turn movements.
It seems that none of the ones we drive ‘around’ in our immediate vicinity qualify based simply on those four reasons. Especially the roundabout at Cemetery Road and Hwy. 35, as it is located just south of a traffic light controlled intersection and it connects a road that virtually ends at the roundabout. When asked about this Helgeson responded that they did not have an immediate concern about safety at that intersection, which was formerly a single stop sign in Cemetery Road.
“We were doing a paving project and we knew the plan was to eventually transfer Hwy. 29 on to Cemetery Road within the life of the project (the life of the paving),” said Helgeson. As result it was a case of efficiency and planning for future development.
In Hudson, intersections under consideration for roundabouts are at Vine and Carmichael and Hanley and Carmichael.
“We have no schedule for implementation of any of these at this time,” said Denny Darnold, Commu-nity Development Director. “Those sites are conducive to roundabouts but we would do a much more de-tailed study before moving forward.”
“There are advocates but each individual location has to be evaluated as to whether or not a roundabout is applicable,” said Darnold. At one point an independent consultant suggested a roundabout for the intersection of Coulee and Second Street as part of the 2007 Visioning Exercise.
Elsewhere in the St. Croix County roundabouts are already planned. According to Helgeson, these are the projects that are already on the books.
In St. Croix County:
Years 2012 -2013:
Years 2013 -2014
In the state of Wisconsin there are approximately 150 roundabouts pre-sently; 100 on state highways and 50 on local highways. There are 175 pro-posed. Of those 165 are on state high-ways and ten are on local highways.
“Typically we would discuss it with local officials first,” said Helgeson. Meetings with county traffic safety commissions and public information meetings would follow. “There is always some element of resistance because it is something new.”
In many cases the suggestion of a roundabout is in direct response to an existing safety problem.
Not everyone is a fan of the modern roundabout. Many drivers of the grumble in private, others in public. A common complaint is the extra time it takes. Quite frankly, navigating the signage can be a trick itself.
One trucker who regularly has to navigate them commented he can never stay in his lane. Helgeson acknowledged that is a problem.
“They are designed with a truck apron on which the rear wheels can travel,” said Helgeson. “The Hanley Road roundabout was the first one in the state and we learned not to make the rise on the truck apron as high in later projects.”
However you feel about modern roundabouts, they are going to be appearing throughout the area, state and nation in years to come. If you want the complete details on proper navigation, go to www.wisconsinroundabouts.gov.