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Randleman roundabouts: The right way to roll?

4 comments

New intersections draw complaints but advantages are significant

Round and round and round you go …

But at those circular intersections called “roundabouts,” at least you do go, rather than being stuck in traffic for what seems like forever.

And a collision is far more likely to be a minor fender-bender than a deadly crash.

But are there more collisions, or fewer?

For years, drivers in Randleman, a town in central North Carolina, have complained about traffic jams on High Point Street. At peak times, traffic would come to a standstill from beyond the entrance of the Walmart shopping center to Tigers Den Road, which goes to Randleman High School and Randleman Middle School.

“If you go back to when there was a traffic light, when school was taking in or letting out or at Walmart when it was Christmas, traffic could be backed up all the way to Commonwealth Road,” said Randleman Police Chief Steve Leonard. “There was no telling how long people would have to wait.”

A lot of people came together to work on the problem: the N.C. DOT office in Asheboro, Traffic Engineer's office in Carthage, the DOT Congestion Management unit in Raleigh and the Triad Rural Planning Organization. The result? Three roundabouts on High Point Street within a half mile from the school road to Walmart.

“Out of all of the possibilities to improve these intersections, the roundabouts

Image by Missouri DOT

proved to be the best at solving the problems and provide a long-term solution,” said Reuben Blakely, district engineer at the Asheboro N.C. DOT office. “This project was being designed in 2009, and we forecasted traffic through 2029.”

Construction was begun in April 2010 and completed in June 2011.

Still, some local drivers are pretty unhappy about the new intersections.

Cindy McIntyre-Harber was the victim of a hit-and-run driver in one of the roundabouts in December, according to a report by WGHP Fox 8 News.

In addition to the collision which put a big dent in her right front quarter-panel, she says, three roundabouts so close together are just too many. Anywhere near the intersection you go – Walmart, McDonald’s, the school, she said, you have to navigate through a roundabout.

It’s true that roundabouts are more challenging for drivers. The roundabouts require drivers to be more aware of other cars, anticipate other drivers’ mistakes, and learn new rules of the road to get around these unfamiliar intersections.

“Nobody seems to know the word ‘yield,’” said McIntyre-Harber.

When drivers approach a roundabout, they have to choose when to wait, and when it’s clear to go. “At lot of them are not used to having to make a decision, Blakely told Fox 8. “The signal used to make the decision for them.”

It’s common sense that roundabouts reduce the severity of crashes. Vehicles move more slowly and the threat of a right-angle crash is virtually eliminated.

“As far as accidents – no accident is ever good – but accidents now are low-speed, said Chief Leonard. “With the traffic light you could be T-boned at a pretty good clip and have serious injuries.”

Officials and some studies also say roundabouts reduce the number of accidents. But anecdotal evidence tends to belie that claim.

At the largest roundabout in Randleman, the one at the intersection of High Point and Academy streets, there were 18 collisions in the eight months after the roundabout opened. In the eight months prior, there were 11, Leonard said. There have been two at Tigers Den Road, but that was in the two months after the opening.

“And, I hope I don’t jinx myself, but we’ve had no accidents at Walmart,” he said.

In another example, in an eight-month period after one roundabout opened in Raleigh near the N.C. State University campus, 42 accidents took place there. A newspaper in Albany, N.Y., reported that crashes went up at 15 of 20 roundabouts constructed in the region.

I believe that as people gain experience with roundabouts, the benefits will definitely outweigh the negatives.

As Leonard said, “If you go in Hardee’s parking lot on the corner and watch, the traffic just flows. It’s amazing to watch people maneuver through it when they do it the proper way.”

4 Comments

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  1. Truckie D says:
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    Interesting post Pierce.

    Personally, I *detest* roundabouts. As you pointed out, many car drivers don’t know the proper way to negotiate them. Also, all too often, they’re not correctly sized for trucks.

    The town where I live put some in a few years ago. Several were too small for some of the city’s fire engines to negotiate. Bad.

    They’ve been used quite extensively in England for many years, which is where I had my first experience with a roundabout. There, drivers are used to them, and generally get through quite skillfully. I’ve seen several large, multi-lane roundabouts there, that were truly a sight to behold. Scary, even when you know what you’re doing.

    For roundabouts to be successful in this country, education is essential. Some TV spots would be nice. While you’re educating the public on roundabouts, you could even throw in a little driving safely around trucks info too.

    Also, I’d like to see some studies done of various design variations sizes, etc. on roundabouts, and their effect on safety.

    td

  2. ScottRAB says:
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    Modern roundabouts are the safest form of intersection in the world. Visit http://www.iihs.org for FAQs and safety facts.
    If you don’t know the difference between a traffic circle, a rotary (UK roundabout) and a modern roundabout, visit http://www.k-state.edu to see the differences. http://www.fhwa.dot.gov has a video about modern roundabouts that is mostly accurate (http://tinyurl.com/3hjrqus ).

    As for trucks, modern roundabouts have large flat areas near the center island called truck aprons. They’re not sidewalks, they’re for truck drivers to begin a sharp right or finish a left turn on.

    I would like to know where the town is that built a modern roundabout a fire truck couldn’t negotiate. Perhaps you’re confusing modern roundabouts with neighborhood traffic circles (which fire trucks turn left in front of).

  3. Truckie D says:
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    @scottrab

    Not sure if it’s a neighborhood traffic circle or roundabout, but there was quite a stink raised in town by the local paper because of it.

    I’d tell you which town, but it might compromise my secret identity. :)

    td

  4. up arrow

    When I mentioned to my dad that I’d read an article about roundabouts, the first two-and-a-half words out of his mouth were: “I hate ’em.”
    Well, I don’t especially “love ’em,” but the Randleman roundabouts sure beat what was there before by a long shot. I drive through this area almost every day, and it used to be a beast to get around there. Turning left out of Walmart was a recipe for road rage.
    In the first few weeks after the big two-lane roundabout was opened, drivers were baffled. I almost got hit there twice. Mr. Blakely is right – now people have to make a decision rather than just wait for the light, and it’s hard for them. But most seem to have gotten the hang of the things.
    I think you simply have to make yourself be a better driver to deal with roundabouts. Mostly increase your awareness of other cars, watch out in every direction and expect other people to make mistakes. And only a nut would be yapping on a cell phone while going through the two-lane roundabout.
    Semi trucks navigate fine, and fire trucks, too. (There’s a fire station right around the corner – another problem the engineers had to deal with.)
    Pierce, you hit the nail on the head. Experience is the key. And the police chief is on the money, too. When people are doing it right, traffic just rolls right on through.