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.”