’Round We Go

Posted: August 2, 2013

Rural Pen

Freely-flowing traffic is a beautiful thing. Driving in Northern Ireland — where my daughter lives — is a pleasure. The rural scenery is captivating, with its hedged neon-green fields and ancient castles. But more than that, when you come to a crossroad, all you do is slow down, check the traffic in the roundabout and proceed to glide around the circle.

No stopping. No burning unnecessary gas. No wasting time.

Northern Ireland isn’t the only place where roundabouts are used to control traffic. Towns and cities across the United States use them, as well.

Several years ago, Harrisonburg got its first roundabout. I use any excuse, when I’m on that side of town, to drive through it.

Now, there is talk of building another at Carlton and Reservoir streets. The city’s public works department will hold a public hearing from 4:30-6:30 p.m. Aug. 6 at Spotswood Elementary School.

Once you’ve used a roundabout a few times, you’ll see how awesome it is.

When it comes to handling traffic, roundabouts are safer, cheaper and better looking than traffic light intersections.

A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that roundabouts reduced injury crashes by 75 percent at intersections where stop signs or signals were previously used. There were also 37 percent fewer overall collisions; 75 percent fewer injury collisions; 90 percent fewer fatality collisions, and 40 percent fewer pedestrian collisions.

A modern signal can cost taxpayers between $80,000 and $100,000 to install, depending on the complexity of the intersection and the characteristics of the traffic using it, according to the Arizona Dept. of Transportation.

As for long-term costs, roundabouts eliminate the hardware, maintenance and electrical costs of traffic signals, which can cost between $5,000 and $10,000 per year, says the IIHS study. Plus, during power outages, roundabouts continue to work as normal.

Roundabouts may need more space within the intersection, but usually take less space on the streets approaching them. Where drivers may need multiple lanes coming up to a traffic light, they often need fewer lanes at a roundabout. So, roundabouts can handle greater volumes of traffic more efficiently than signals.

I was disappointed when the traffic lights were installed on South Main Street at the intersection of the new “bypass,” thus rendering it not a bypass, but simply another stop-and-go time- and gas-consuming annoyance.

Check out the YouTube video of the Keystone Parkway and 116th Street in Carmel, Ind., which compares a traditional intersection to a roundabout, how it handles lots of traffic. It gives you a bird’s-eye-view of what they each look like.

Roundabouts save driving time. An IIHS study in three states found that roundabouts contributed to 89 percent less delays and 56 percent less vehicle stops. Over time, this could also save gas, thus money.

Last but not least, roundabouts are more aesthetically pleasing. They have no huge steel poles, strung wires, hanging lights or cameras. Have you ever counted the number of lights and cameras at a simple intersection?

While pouring concrete in the middle of the roundabout may be low-maintenance, planting flowers and low shrubs can make it a pleasant sight to approach.

Which would make your day better, another red light or a bed of chrysanthemums?

We could even call it the Martin Luther King Roundabout and Memorial Garden.

Luanne Austin lives in Mount Sidney. Contact her at RuralPen@aol.com, facebook.com/rural pen or care of the DN-R.

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