In April, I wrote a column about research clearly showing roundabouts are safer than both signaled intersections and four-way stops. A reader responded on our website, saying in California, roundabouts were constructed with the idea of slowing traffic and were quickly removed as they caused more accidents than they alleviated, adding that her point was roundabouts cause swerving when the speed is not reduced and cause additional accidents and possible loss of lives.
I checked her comments and found that the “roundabouts” removed in California were not, in fact, roundabouts. They were traffic circles.
Her statements drew a response from Scott Batson, an engineer with the City of Portland, Ore., who said many people confuse other and older styles of circular intersections with modern roundabouts. “No one is removing modern roundabouts,” he said.
He shared links to websites containing factual information on roundabouts. One was the Center for Transportation Research and Training at Kansas State University. There I found a document entitled “Roundabouts Research.” It contained lots of photos of American roundabouts, traffic circles which are NOT roundabouts, photos of roundabouts in France, roundabout design deficiencies, etc.
In probably the most comprehensive US study to date, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently completed an in-depth study of 24 intersections which were converted from stop control and signals to modern roundabouts during the past decade. These 24 intersections were a mix of urban, suburban and rural environments. Overall, the study found reductions of 39% for all crash severities combined, 76% for all injury crashes and an approximate 90% reduction in fatal and incapacity injury crashes.
Local opposition to the two roundabouts planned for Hazlehurst is not unusual. Across the U.S. there has been public opposition to roundabouts when their planned constructions were announced.
But, once completed, most of that opposition went away with people admitting they had been wrong once they experienced the increased safety and improved traffic flow of the roundabouts.
I go through roundabouts a lot. The route to my daughter’s home in Richmond Hill contains a roundabout and with each visit I go through the roundabout a half dozen times or more.
The route to my son’s home in Newnan contains two roundabouts. And when I leave his home to go shopping, watch my grandson play baseball, etc., I travel through one or two additional roundabouts.
My wife and I easily traverse all those roundabouts. As do my daughter and son-in-law, my son and daughter-in-law, and my son’s two driving-age children.
As do thousands of motorists in Richmond Hill and Newnan who travel through those roundabouts daily.
Roundabouts are springing up all over the U.S. and Georgia. And not just in large cities. The engineering firm that designed the Hazlehurst roundabouts has also designed roundabouts for Lyons, Eastman, and a dozen more small communities in middle and southeast Georgia.
Again, the local opposition is not unusual. But it is at odds with the facts.
Two years ago, the Georgia Department of Transportation’s (GDOT) Safe Routes To Schools program extensively studied traffic patterns around the Jeff Davis County schools. The study included a number or recommendations — and facts. The recommendations included sidewalks, roadway striping, signage, etc. — and the installation of roundabouts at the intersection of Pat Dixon Road and Collins Street, and Pat Dixon Road and Charles Rogers Blvd. In making the decision to seek funding for those roundabouts, the Hazlehurst City Council was guided by the recommendations in that study, which was led by a traffic flow specialist GDOT had flown into Georgia from Washington, D.C.
At Thursday’s city council meeting, the matter of the crosswalk on Pat Dixon Road in front of the elementary school was brought up and the opinion stated that that crosswalk was not taken into consideration.
That is incorrect. The study took that crosswalk into account and it also took into account all the other concerns raised at Thursday’s meeting
When I was on the city council, I put in a lot of work on the roundabout issue over a two-year period. My aim, as was the aim of the city council, was to improve safety and traffic flow in the area of our schools. The two intersections near the schools had long been known to be dangerous. The decision to place those roundabouts was not arrived at lightly, nor was it hastily conceived.
Nor was the decision made alone. We worked with school officials on the idea and had the backing of those officials, the county commissioners, GDOT and State Senator Blake Tillery.
GDOT has a section on its website devoted to roundabouts including a Roundabout Guidance Manual. If you’re interested in facts, visit the website.