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Going Around In Circles May Ease Jams

By JIM SLOAN This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Published: Apr 28, 2002 Roundabouts.

They love 'em in Europe, but Americans just aren't that fond of going around in circles. Traffic experts, though, say U.S. motorists are missing the boat. Roundabouts, they claim, reduce traffic accidents and avoid traffic jams by keeping cars moving.

"It's not uncommon to see strong opposition to roundabouts,'' said Richard Retting of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. "They aren't perfect, but they are probably the best form of intersection design we have.''

In roundabouts, drivers merge onto a one-way road built around a landscaped circle. There are only about 400 or so in the United States, and only a few in the Tampa Bay area.

A recent study of 24 intersections converted to roundabouts found that wrecks with injuries fell 76 percent, and accidents with fatalities or serious injuries dropped 89 percent. "In a few years, there will be over a thousand'' roundabouts in the United States, Retting predicted.

He says:

* Unlike intersections with traffic lights, no one has to stop and sit for an eternity at a roundabout. You yield just long enough to merge into the circle.
* There are no left-turn crashes or right-angle collisions, the classic wrecks at most intersections.
* Unlike "the big slab of asphalt'' at regular intersections, Retting says, roundabouts lend themselves to landscaping.

"There really is no downside,'' said Russ Rader, Retting's colleague at the Insurance Institute. "Not only do you improve safety, but you also deal with the bane of modern commuter traffic, the traffic jam.''

The major complaint is the "learning curve'' as drivers get used to roundabouts. But Retting doesn't see that as a major issue. "The learning curve should take about 30 seconds,'' he said. "I'm more concerned about the 76-year-old driver who doesn't see very well and pulls out into traffic [at a standard intersection] that's coming at him at 40, 50 mph.''

No Changing Bulbs
Mike Krawczyk of Tampa, whose e-mail to Behind the Wheel inspired this column, also points out that roundabouts mean less gasoline use because there's less time waiting, no electrical power needed for signals and no changing burned-out bulbs in traffic signals."

"When used by drivers who understand them, roundabouts make driving easier, safer and more economical,'' said Krawczyk, who fell in love with the intersection design during a visit to the United Kingdom.

Got to admit, I like the roundabout near The Florida Aquarium on Channelside Drive, which I use on my way home every day. Driving, even in a circle, beats waiting at a light.

Should we start ripping out traffic lights in favor of roundabouts? Lemme know what you think.

This weekly column will address commuter concerns and take a light-hearted look at issues every motorist faces. To let us know what bugs you, call Jim Sloan at (813) 259-7691.

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