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Nov-09-2008 15:45TweetFollow @OregonNews
Are Roundabouts the Answer for Our Traffic Problems?Tim King Salem-News.com
A different kind of revolution for American drivers.
(SALEM, Ore.) - I remember the first roundabout in Las Vegas and with it, the frustration and confusion of drivers unaccustomed to this European style traffic pattern.
The roundabouts at Summerlin, a few miles west of the famed "Las Vegas Strip", are in a semi rural part of Sin City; an area where 45 and 50 MPH speed limits meet two-way stops and crashes are grisly and often fatal.
Progressive-minded city planners found an answer in using roundabouts for the upper-end suburb of Las Vegas. Online forums discuss the fact that a lot of Las Vegas locals continue to be less than thrilled, but most seem to realize that the roundabouts save lives.
There are no left hand turn or head-on crashes when traffic slows for roundabouts. Drivers have to work with each other and if a person misses their turn, they can just keep going around until they reach it again.
While Las Vegans have mixed reviews of the Summerlin roundabouts, 50 have been built in Carmel, Indiana since 2001, and that city has seen a 78% decline in injuries related to traffic accidents.
Carmel city officials report that their roundabouts save 24,000 gallons of gas a year.
A recent Kansas State University study shows a 65% average drop in vehicular delays when roundabouts are used.
Those numbers seem hard to argue with. Modern roundabouts have an amazing level of safety and they save taxpayers big bucks.
How Roundabouts Work
I learned how to properly navigate roundabouts while driving in France, and I was amazed that I could get in the inside lane and drive round and round until I was sure of my turn. Roundabouts in the U.S. and France always move to the right, and drivers have to come to at least a near stop before entering them.
Using a roundabout is like making a "right turn on red". A driver approaches the yield sign, looks for oncoming traffic coming from the left, sees an opportunity in the traffic flow, and then turns right. Once you have entered the roundabout, you don't have to be in a hurry to make your next move.
Inside the roundabout, a driver continues circling counter-clockwise until reaching the desired exit. Exit maneuvers are also right turns. The use of turn signals is important in traffic circles as part of safety and driver etiquette. Drivers who will continue to proceed straight through the roundabout do not signal in most cases, but you should verify that with local law enforcement.
The first roundabout was constructed in Paris around the Arc de Triomphe in 1901, according to Wikipedia.
The BBC says the first "recognizable modern roundabout" was New York's Columbus Circle. The first British roundabout came five years later, in Letchworth Garden City in 1909. Interestingly, this was initially intended to serve as a traffic island for pedestrians.
The popularity of roundabouts grew after British engineers re-designed that country's traffic circles in the mid-1960s. Frank Blackmore invented the mini roundabout to overcome its limitations of capacity and for safety issues.
Roundabouts vs. Traffic Circles
Traffic circles are found throughout the U.S., particularly in places like Washington DC, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. This type of intersection is fading into the past as the new roundabouts evolve as the safest and most efficient design.
Traffic circles can involve stop signs or stop signals. They frequently operate at higher speeds and often require motorists to move from one lane to another.
Unlike traffic circles, roundabouts operate with yield control to give priority to circulating traffic and eliminate much of the driver confusion associated with traffic circles and driver wait associated with junctions that have traffic lights.
Roughly the same size as signaled intersections with the same capacity, roundabouts also are significantly smaller in diameter than traffic circles, separate incoming and outgoing traffic with pedestrian islands and therefore encourage slower and safer speeds.
Roundabouts remove illegal options; it is as simple as that. It seems like responsible government leaders might want to take a closer look if they want to save lives and money.
Oregon State Police and other law enforcement agencies devote a lot of time and money to catching drivers who violate speed limits. They even use unmarked cars for traffic enforcement and that opens the door for police impostors who seek to assault lone drivers on our highways.
The state of Washington also uses unmarked cars and pickups for traffic enforcement and it is hard these days to know who is who when a red light appears in your mirror. It seems like a good time for Oregon and Washington as well as the nation's other 48 states to invest in sound practices that eliminate problems and save us all time and money.
Modern roundabouts are relatively new to the U.S., but they are common in the United Kingdom and Australia and are becoming very popular in many other European countries.
Having stated that, it is noteworthy that one of the first modern roundabouts was created in New York City. It is one more example of American ingenuity when it comes to modern and efficient designs.
Time Magazine reported in September 2008, that about 1,000 roundabouts have now been built in 25 states. Perhaps more American cities and towns and counties and states will adopt this successful approach more widely in the future.
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