The Free Press, Mankato, MN

June 3, 2013

Roundabouts deserve chance

Research points to the use of roundabouts as a safer traffic-control choice

The Mankato Free Press

---- — Whether you love them or hate them, roundabouts are here — and likely for the long haul.

The Mankato area is just getting used to the new traffic-control method with a handful of roundabouts opening recently at various locations. Public sentiment about roundabouts has been mixed. Some people are strident about hating them, and others actually like them, having encountered them extensively in other parts of the country or world.

But probably the biggest pool of people is those who are unfamiliar with using roundabouts and just have to get used to them.

Like anything new, roundabouts are a bit strange if you haven’t encountered them much. And when tackling anything new, the key is education.

The more you know about roundabouts, the less foreign they will seem.

To many in the southern half of the state, New Prague is probably one of the first roundabouts many motorists encountered. It was actually the first one in the state.

Safety experts said before it went in, the intersection was the site of two deaths and 50 injury-causing accidents in five years. Since the roundabout was installed seven years ago, there have been no fatalities and four injury crashes.

Less severe crashes are the major benefit to the roundabout design. The collisions that occur are less serious because crashes are between vehicles traveling in the same direction rather than T-bone collisions that occur at traditional intersections.

The data show that roundabouts are the safest intersections, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Federal research backs that up. U.S. Department of Transportation statistics show that roundabouts reduce fatalities by 90 percent. Around the country multi-lane roundabouts have roughly the same number of accidents as signal-controlled intersections but 70 percent fewer injury-causing accidents.

Traffic experts also point out that traffic flows more smoothly when roundabouts are used. Cars travel through roundabouts an average of 10 seconds faster during rush hour.

The costs to build a roundabout isn’t much different than a standard intersection with a traffic light — about $1 million to $1.5 million.

MnDOT is aware of the work it needs to do in educating the public about why roundabouts are being used. In May it hosted an open house to talk about new roundabouts planned for Highway 22 and Adams Street and Highway 22 and Madison Avenue, in addition to talking about roundabouts in general.

Their staff set up stations to show and explain how the roundabouts work with maps, a floor model and even a table-top roundabout using toy cars to demonstrate how they work.

Drivers need to take time to learn about the roundabouts as they become more common in Minnesota, and all driver education instruction should include coverage of the topic.

Roundabouts may be a strange concept to motorists who are used to stoplights and stop signs, but if lives can be saved and traffic flows more smoothly, this traffic-control method should be welcomed.