The learning curve behind the modern roundabout

Since the early 2000s, roundabouts have had Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo motorists driving in circles. With their growing popularity (there are now seven in West Fargo alone), you might be wondering how these circular intersections took form, and why.

The answer is simple: Safety.

Roundabouts eliminate the left-hand turn – and the T-bones that go along with them. Roundabouts also force drivers to slow down, leaving them – and pedestrians! – with more time to react and make a decision. Pictured: Eagle Run Roundabout,
Roundabouts also force drivers to slow down, leaving them – and pedestrians – more time to react and make a decision, reducing the number of crashes. Pictured: Eagle Run Roundabout, 9th St. W. and 38th Ave. W. in West Fargo, ND

Roundabouts eliminate the left-hand turn – and the car crashes that go with them. Roundabouts also force drivers to slow down, leaving them – and pedestrians – more time to react and make a decision, reducing the number of crashes. Since speeds are slower in and near a roundabout and only right turns are allowed, the severity of crashes is usually reduced to side swipes with only fender-bender damage. 

Case in point: the roundabout at the crossing of Highway 75 and Sixtieth Avenue South in Moorhead. Prior to the roundabout, the formerly two-way stop was a site for several fatalities. From 2005 until October 2011, there were two deaths, two possible injuries and one non-incapacitating injury. The Minnesota Department of Transportation deemed the intersection one of the most dangerous in the state and determined a roundabout was a fitting solution. In October 2011, a roundabout was installed. Since October 2011, only two possible injuries have occurred.

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A study of 23 intersections converted to roundabouts shows a decrease in total crashes by 39 percent and an 89 percent decrease in fatal crashes.

And that’s just one example. According to a study performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a study of 23 intersections converted to roundabouts shows a decrease in total crashes by 39 percent, a decrease in injury crashes of 76 percent, and a dramatic 89 percent decrease in fatal crashes.

In addition to the safety factor, roundabouts create traffic mobility. No stop is required unless traffic is already circulating in the lanes. The road is able to handle traffic more efficiently with less delay than a traditional intersection with stop signs or a traffic signal.

Naturally, this continuity reduces pollution and fuel consumption because of fewer stops, reduced idling and more tame accelerations. It also cures the frustrating standstills at seemingly unnecessary, time-wasting stop lights.

If you traveled through a roundabout without fully knowing the rules that govern them, it may have been a confusing experience. Our community’s single-lane roundabouts are actually very easy to maneuver. Here are a few tips for your next venture:

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Source: Minnesota Department of Transportation

MOTORISTS:

  • Slow down as you approach the roundabout, and watch for pedestrians.
  • Continue toward the roundabout and look to your left as you near the yield sign. Yield to traffic already in the roundabout.
  • Enter the circle when there’s a gap in traffic and proceed to your exit, signaling before you exit; again, watch carefully for pedestrians.
  • If there is no traffic in the roundabout, enter without yielding.
  • Never stop in a roundabout. If all drivers and pedestrians follow the rules, there is never a reason to stop.

CYCLISTS:

  • Ride with traffic inside the roundabout or use the crosswalks appropriately.
  • Follow the same rules as vehicles when riding with traffic and yield when entering the roundabout.
  • Since traffic is slower inside the roundabout, cyclists should be able to travel at or near the same speed as motorists, staying in line with the circulating traffic.

PEDESTRIANS:

  • Cross only at crosswalks, and always stay on the designated walkways.
  • Never cross to the central island.
  • Cross the roundabout one approach at a time. Use the median island as a halfway point where you can check for approaching traffic.

The modern roundabout is a safe and efficient traffic control device that will continue growing in our communities. If you have questions about the safety, efficiency or operation of a roundabout, watch this video or give us a call!