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Blog: Round and round and round we go


I read with dread the other day the news that the city was contemplating putting in another infernal traffic-calming device.

Commissioners were considering a roundabout at the intersection of Ninth and New Hampshire streets, despite the fact roundabouts seem to be almost universally despised by anyone who has ever encountered one anywhere. Give or take.

First, a disclaimer. I understand how roundabouts are supposed to work. And I understand how to navigate one. It’s not hard, really. Yield to traffic already in the roundabout. That’s it.

Trouble is, not everybody knows or chooses to follow that simple rule, so making it through a roundabout can be dicey.

And that’s when all the people involved are squirreled away in metal cages.

When folks try to get through roundabouts on two wheels or even — gasp! — on foot, things get a little more treacherous.

All things being equal, there seem to be some drivers who are loath to yield to a person on a bike. I’ve been bullied by motor-vehicle operators before. Outweighed by a couple thousand pounds (man and equipment combined, rest assured), I usually yield to such folks. I don’t especially like it, but I do rather enjoy breathing.

Then again, I frequently encounter drivers who go to the other extreme and, despite being in the roundabout already, insist on motioning me ahead of them. Sometimes I protest. Sometimes I don’t. No matter how well-intentioned they might be, these folks nevertheless foul the flow of traffic — contrary to the purpose of the roundabout. As the traffic backs up, I can feel the eyes burning into me and can’t help but feel every driver so inconvenienced must assume the cyclist is to blame.

In my mind, though, the worst roundabout ruffians are the nimrods who, in the interest of shaving a full three-tenths of a second off their commute, will cut the corner on a roundabout. Rather than go all the way around a roundabout to make what would amount to a left turn, if the way appears clear, they’ll go left immediately, driving, if only for a moment, the wrong way in the roundabout.

If the way indeed is clear, no worries.

But if there is, say, a guy on a bike legally navigating the roundabout, he’s bound to become a hood ornament.

And this isn’t purely hypothetical.

There’s a traffic circle, with a lovely view-impeding garden at is center, near my home I ride through just about every day. There’s not a lot of traffic. I’d guess I’ve encountered another vehicle in the circle maybe 50 times over the years. Twice in that span I’ve had to take emergency evasive action to avoid a wrong-way roundabouter. And I’m not talking a gentle squeeze of the brakes; both times it was more like a panicked dive to the curb as I tried to avoid a grille all up in my grill.

If my guesstimate is correct, I’ve had a potentially dangerous encounter at that intersection 4 percent of the time I’ve encountered another vehicle there. Those aren’t good odds.

I read a couple of reports that claim car-cycle accidents can be two to three times more common in roundabouts than at other controlled intersections. But the good news is that traffic tends to be slower.

The takeaway: Cyclists are more likely to get hit, but the collision won't hurt quite as much.

I take that as slight consolation.


RoeDapple 5 years, 7 months ago

This city claims to be pedestrian and bicycle friendly. Their infatuation with roundabouts indicate otherwise.

Scott Batson 5 years, 7 months ago

I think you confuse the intersection control for the intersection users. There's nothting wrong with modern roundabouts, even for cyclists. Sounds more like a cultural/enforcement problem. Many people confuse older styles of circular intersections with modern roundabouts. East coast rotaries, large multi-lane traffic circles (Arc D’Triumph), and neighborhood traffic circles are not modern roundabouts. Visit www.k-state.edu to see the differences. www.fhwa.dot.gov has a video about modern roundabouts that is mostly accurate (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhHzly... ). Modern roundabouts are the safest form of intersection in the world. Search www.iihs.org for FAQs and safety facts. The safety comes from the ‘slow and go’ operation instead of the ‘stop or go fast’ way a stop light works. The smaller size of the modern roundabout is what makes them safer and keeps speeds in the 20 mph range. This makes it much easier to avoid a crash or stop for pedestrians. It also means that if a crash happens the likelihood of injury is very low. Safety is the #1 reason there are over 2,400 modern roundabouts in the US today and many more on the way.
Slow and go also means less delay than a stop light or stop sign, especially the other 20 hours a day people aren’t driving to or from work. Average daily delay at a signal is around 12 seconds per car. At a modern roundabout average delay is less than five seconds. Signals take an hour of demand and restrict it to a half hour, at best only half the traffic gets to go at any one time. At a modern roundabout four drivers entering from four directions can all enter at the same time. Don’t try that with a signalized intersection. If you’re looking at the other side of a modern roundabout when you’re entering, you’re driving unsafely. Drivers entering a modern roundabout should first look for pedestrians, then watch for other motorists coming from the left and then watch for pedestrians when exiting. The motorist on the other side of the circle won’t get to you for 5 or ten seconds.

Leslie Swearingen 5 years, 7 months ago

I want a roundabout with a replica of Magic Mountain in the center, abut twenty-five feet high, big enough to walk around in and up the curley stairs. and a snow slide down the north side. Sleds can be rented and on certain days of the year that intersection will be closed for fun.
After all the man did say, "Don’t try that with a signalized intersection. If you’re looking at the other side of a modern roundabout when you’re entering, you’re driving unsafely."

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