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Jim Suk
Jim Suk
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Round And Round We Go: What’s With Roundabouts?

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There’s an increasingly new sight here in my hometown of Rochester, Minnesota, and it’s a sight that’s becoming more and more familiar across the entire U.S. – the appearance of roundabouts . The use of roundabouts as traffic control devices at intersections began in England in 1963 and quickly spread to the rest of Europe. Their appearance in the U.S., however, is much more recent. The first roundabout in the U.S. was erected in 1990 in a subdivision of Las Vegas called Summerlin . By 2009, there were about 2,300 roundabouts nationwide – and that number continues to grow.

So what is a “roundabout”? It’s a circular intersection where drivers travel counterclockwise around a center island. They are used in place of stop signs or other traffic control device at intersection. The goal is to increase traffic capacity and reduce traffic conflicts in order to help reduce the number of intersection crashes.

According to NHTSA, approximately 733,000 people were injured and 7,196 people were killed in intersection-related accidents in 2008. A leading factor in these collisions is driver inability or failure to see the stop sign or other traffic control device. Roundabouts, on the other hand, make traffic flow more predictable and keep traffic moving…so long as drivers understand how to use a roundabout. They also slow traffic to speeds of 20-25 mph, which virtually eliminates the possibility of high-speed crashes.

Here are a few tips from Roundabouts USA on how to drive a roundabout:

  • As you approach a roundabout there will be a YIELD sign and dashed yield limit line. Slow down, watch for pedestrians and bicyclists, and be prepared to stop if necessary.
  • When you enter, yield to circulating traffic on the left, but do not stop if the way is clear.
  • A conventional roundabout will have ONE-WAY signs mounted in the center island. They help guide traffic and indicate that you must drive to the right of the center island.
  • Upon passing the street prior to your exit, turn on your right turn signal and watch for pedestrians and bicyclists as you exit.
  • Left turns are completed by traveling around the central island (see map below).

If you want more guidance on the correct way to maneuver a roundabout, click here for a good video on using roundabouts.

Roundabouts can be a great way to keep traffic moving and to keep motor vehicle occupants safe, so long as we all understand how they work and obey the rules.

Think about it.

2 Comments

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  1. ScottRAB says:
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    Traffic engineers prefer the term Modern Roundabout, to distinguish them from circles and rotaries.
    The FHWA has a video about modern roundabouts that is mostly accurate (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhHzly_6lWM ).

  2. Mike Bryant says:
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    It is interesting to watch these grow in Minnesota. Clearly they do reduce collisions in the long ruin, but drivers really have a problem dealing with them at the start.