In the interest of full disclosure, historically we’ve not been terribly fond of roundabouts.
They can make travel take longer and, in our experience, it appears not everyone in the United States is fully acclimated to an engineering phenomenon that’s relatively new to this country.
By several accounts, the modern roundabout got its start in Britain in the 1960s and spread from there.
“A roundabout revolution is slowly sweeping the U.S.,” reads a BBC story on the subject. “The land of the car, where the stop sign and traffic light have ruled for decades, has started to embrace the free-flowing British circular.”
Free-flowing might be a generous term, but you get the idea. One characteristic, however, is less debatable: In the appropriate situation, roundabouts are safer than the alternatives.
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The Wisconsin Department of Transportation cites a 2015 study by the UW Traffic Operations and Safety Lab that showed fatal and severe injury accidents declined 40 percent at roundabouts in the state. Among the reasons: less potential for serious crashes (head-on and T-bone collisions) and slower travel speeds.
Although traffic slows, flow is improved. The state DOT reports that a study involving Kansas, Maryland and Nevada found that roundabout conversions reduced traffic delays by 13 to 23 percent.
Lower wait times at intersections and concerns over safety for pedestrians and bicyclists also factored into the Eau Claire City Council recently approving, by a unanimous vote, a resolution authorizing the reconstruction of State Street from Garfield Avenue to the south city limits. The initial cost of the project, scheduled to include at least three roundabouts, was estimated at $2.57 million.
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Some affected Eau Claire residents spoke out against the project. We certainly respect their reservations but assume the city will take those worries into account during the design of the project.
Our concerns now turn to the future. According to a Leader-Telegram story, more than 20 open houses and neighborhood association meetings were held before the City Council voted on the State Street project. We hope that at least that much care is taken when the topic resurfaces in another part of the city.
As for advice, the DOT says there are three key rules to negotiating a roundabout: slow down, choose the correct lane and yield to all lanes. Such suggestions are welcomed considering the continued proliferation of the vexing structures.
— Liam Marlaire, assistant editor