Are roundabouts really safer than traditional intersections?
By next summer, a new roundabout will replace a traditional a traffic signal at a busy and often congested intersection in downtown Prior Lake, and Lois Kocon isn’t convinced it will make things any better.
“It makes me anxious,” said Kocon, who lives near the new circular interchange that is being built by Scott County and two other agencies on Hwy. 13 and County Road 21. “You are at the mercy of the person to your right. A lot of people are concerned how that will work. Is it going to solve a problem? Will it make the problems worse?”
Kocon wanted to know if roundabouts really deliver the safety and traffic flow benefits that experts say they have. So she asked Curious Minnesota, the newspaper’s community-driven reporting project, to find out.
With only about 5,000 roundabouts on the nation’s roads — making them still somewhat uncommon — it’s natural that drivers might consider them confusing. But Jim Brainard, the mayor of Carmel, Ind., is a big proponent of them. He spent time studying law in the United Kingdom and marveled at how efficiently traffic flowed through them. In 1996, he brushed off ridicule and brought the first roundabout to Carmel. Now with 126 of them, the city just north of Indianapolis is virtually traffic light free and unofficially known as the “Roundabout Capital of America.”
“I’m responsible,” he proudly says, touting the results that have come with them. Property-damage crashes at Carmel’s roundabouts are down 40%, and crashes with injuries have dropped by 75%. Insurance rates have dropped, and drivers have saved gas with less stopping and idling at traffic signals.
Results in Carmel mirror what has occurred nationally where the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have found a 37% decrease in total crashes and a 75% drop in crashes resulting in injuries when compared with traditional signalized intersections. Fatal mishaps dropped by 90%. Wrecks involving pedestrians declined 40%, the data found.
More than 10,000 motorists died at intersections in 2018, according to the FHWA, and fatalities often resulted from head-on, right-angle or T-bone crashes in which another driver ran a red light or was making a turn. Roundabouts have a favorable safety record because motorists are generally moving in the same direction and traveling at slower speeds, said Joe Gustafson, a traffic engineer with Washington County Public Works Traffic Operations.
It’s not that crashes don’t happen, but they are more likely to be low-energy sideswipes or rear-enders that tend to bring less serious consequences, he said.
“You are generally cleaning up glass and not blood,” he said.
Traffic flow has improved, too, Gustafson said. When the intersection of Manning Avenue and Hwy. 96 was governed by a four-way stop, it was not uncommon for quarter-mile backups to develop weekday afternoons on Manning. After the roundabout opened in 2016, “those backups went away completely.”
That’s been the case at several of the other 17 roundabouts in the county where there will be 21 by next year, Gustafson said.
Alleviating congestion in downtown Prior Lake is the major driver behind the construction of the roundabout on Hwy. 13 and another one nearby, said Scott County engineer Tony Winiecki.
When approaching a roundabout, drivers should yield to traffic already in the circle, then enter when there is a gap. When approaching a roundabout with two lanes, a driver who wants to exit to the right should pick the right or outside lane. Drivers who need to make a left turn should choose the left or inside lane. Drivers going straight can choose either lane. When entering a two-lane roundabout, drivers should yield to traffic in both lanes, Gustafson said.
The biggest mistake, mostly at roundabouts with two lanes, is “drivers treat them like merging onto a freeway and that they should never stop at the entry,” Gustafson said. “They need to wait at the entry until traffic is clear.”
Though some drivers are still apprehensive about roundabouts, concerns and anxiety generally go away — or at least way down — after they drive or walk through them, said Jeff Shaw,Intersections Program manager with FHWA. In Prior Lake, officials next spring plan to hold educational events to demonstrate how to navigate a roundabout.
“You see a complete 180,” Shaw said. “That was not so bad, people say. Our focus is on saving lives and this one does a remarkable job. We are encourage states to use them as often as we can.”
Washington County has been a leader in Minnesota in roundabout education and developed an outreach program to educate drivers called Roundabout U.
Roundabouts across the country are appearing at a rapid pace. Wisconsin has the most roundabouts with 432, and Minnesota, with 252, ranks in the Top 10 nationally.
The roundabout at Hwy. 13 and County Road 21 to be completed by July 2020 is anticipated to reduce traffic delays by 85%, and crashes resulting in serious injuries are expected to drop by 75%, according to Nicole Schmidt, a project spokeswoman. Those are numbers Brainard said should allay Kocon’s fears.
“She will be a lot safer as a driver,” he said “She will learn to love it.”
According to a recently submitted Development Plan filed in Orange County, the partners are seeking to build a 380-unit apartment complex at 11907 Ruby Lake Rd., just south of Lake Ruby.
The property is part of a nearly 18-acre land assemblage that is currently owned by Diamond Resorts Cypress Pointe III Development LLC, which is an entity linked to Las Vegas-based Diamond Resorts.
The timeshare company inherited the property in 2007 as part of its $700 million acquisition of Sunterra Corp.
The most recently submitted DP replaces previous entitlements that called for 420 timeshare units and up to 30,000 square feet of commercial space.
Diamond Resorts has been trying to do away with its previous uses since late last year.
In January, GrowthSpotter reported on a Land Use Plan, filed by HDSi on behalf of Bering Homes affiliate Bering I LLC, that requested the property be incorporated into the Sunterra Resort PD and that county officials replace previously adopted timeshare uses with multifamily development uses.
The company also sought several waivers in respect to parking, building height and building separation to neighboring residential properties, among other waiver requests.
The most recently submitted DP lists Greystar as its developer. The multifamily development and property management firm is working with Bering Homes’ Chad R. O’Brien to develop a garden-style apartment community under its Elan multifamily brand.
Bering entered the Orlando market last year when it bought and resurrected a defunct vacation home resort development in the Four Corners area near ChampionsGate.
The Sunterra project, dubbed Elan Cypress Pointe, would consist of 10 apartment buildings, three designated park areas and a clubhouse with a pool. A good amount of its units face a pond, which also serves as its storm water management area.
According to Greystar’s website, Elan communities are strategically located near shopping and dining destinations, as well as places of work.
In the case for Elan Cypress Pointe, developers will likely aim to benefit off its proximity to job creators, like the ever-expanding theme parks by Walt Disney Company, Universal Parks & Resorts and SeaWorld Entertainment.
The future construction of an I-4 interchange and the 1.6-mile extension of Daryl Carter Parkway that will link Palm Parkway to S. Apopka-Vineland Road has also helped fuel development in the area.
Nearby, Pulte Homes completed several residential developments on more than 100 acres of land surrounding Ruby Lake, including Phillips Grove and Ruby Lake by Pulte Homes. The home builder is currently developing a new 20-unit townhome community called Overlook at Ruby Lake. HDSi lead the entitlement amendment for Ruby Lake for Unicorp.
O’Connor Capital Partners recently delivered the first phase of the Vineland Pointe shopping plaza, bringing in tenants such as Lucky’s Market, Marshall’s, Ross and Burlington. Plans for the remaining two phases have indicated the developer is seeking lease deals with Target and a movie theater chain.
The development is part of its efforts to expand its recently launched NOVEL multifamily brand in Orlando’s tourism corridor.
The Orange County Board of County Commissioners approved the zoning for Unicorp’s O Town West. This $1 Billion project includes 1,300 residential units, a marketplace, some service uses and an entertainment complex anchored by a 3 acre active water feature and cinema. HallDSi provided entitlement services for a comprehensive plan amendment and rezoning. Right of way vacations and two out parcels provided complications which were successfully negotiated to allow the rezoning.