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Highway roundabouts have proven value

The following editorial appeared in the Rochester Post-Bulletin.

Not everyone loves roundabouts. In fact, most probably grumble about these new traffic constructs when we come across them. Which way do I go? Which lane am I supposed to be in? Is that car coming at me going to stop? Who invented these confounded obstacles?

But a new study from the Minnesota Department of Transportation shows that roundabouts have reduced the number of accidents and are the way to go.

The study looked at accident statistics for 144 of the state’s 200 roundabouts, the first of which was built in 1995. For starters, there has not yet been a multi-vehicle fatal accident at a roundabout in Minnesota. Comparing before and after data, there’s been an 83-percent reduction in the rate of accidents involving serious injuries. All told, injury accidents have been reduced by 42 percent.

Those are impressive numbers and appear to more than make up for any discomfort people feel about the new arrangements.

In addition to reducing serious injury accidents, roundabouts have lower maintenance costs than a traffic signal intersection.

Despite that, they’re not about to quickly multiply across the state. Derek Leuer, a MnDOT traffic safety engineer, said the decision to replace a traditional intersection with a roundabout is made on a case-by-case basis, and many of those decisions are made by local entities — where, as was the case with the proposed roundabout on Rochester’s 16th Street Southwest, local resistance can cause elected officials to choose traditional designs over roundabouts.

How and why do roundabouts work so well? They’re able to handle more traffic in less time than a traditional intersection. Traffic flow is improved even through everyone has to slow down to navigate the roundabout. That also accounts for the reduction in serious accidents.

All of that makes sense — so much sense, in fact, that any concerns about roundabouts should be left in the rear view mirror.

Republished with permission.


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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Dave Carlson on 11/07/2017 - 03:44 pm.


    While I am sure roundabouts are generally safer for motorists — and accident rates will probably decrease as drivers get more used to using them — they do present safety and navigation challenges for pedestrians and bicyclists. Pedestrians (and bicyclists who use the sidewalk or trail crossings) are faced with motor vehicles slowing but not stopping at these intersections, and motorists having to look for vehicles in the roundabout are maybe less likely to notice pedestrians in the multiple crosswalks. Bicyclists who use the roadway are encouraged to “take the lane” and mix with traffic (most are not designed with bike lanes) which can create tension and confusion. Double lane roundabouts are even more problematic for all users — motorists aren’t sure what lane to use and when to exit, bicyclists might have to change lanes or make awkward mergers, pedestrians have to cross up to four lanes of moving traffic entering and exiting each spoke of the roundabout. Hopefully the slower motor traffic keeps fatalities down but these configurations are not a perfect solution. Single lane roundabouts should be considered over double lane ones, and I think there should be better signage and crosswalk markings.

  2. Submitted by Britter Ritter on 11/07/2017 - 06:28 pm.


    If most drivers are like me, they consider roundabouts to be a huge hazard, and therefore slow down considerably. They are totally confusing due to poor signage. It is clearly advantageous if you are turning, but they give you no idea how to go straight ahead. Are you supposed to go around it just to go straight? That makes no sense. To be safe, they would have to be enormous, and they are not, and just take up extra land. If you want to make intersections safer, put stop signs at the preceding intersection to slow drivers down, or use rumble strips. Numbers do not make these a good idea. And, besides, the whole State of Minnesota was designed following the USGS grid, and all roads are square, mostly right angles. It goes against all that precedent to have a roundabout.

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