Wednesday, December 12

All about the Roundabouts

This is Missoula's Beckwith-Higgins-Hill intersection, which is the site of the first proposed roundabout for the center of town. Missoula residents have been batting around the idea of roundabouts for a while now. Public opinion seems to be tilting in the direction of acceptance, but the city council is still awaiting final approval for this particular project.

What's not to like about the modern roundabout? Bob Giordano, of the Missoula Institute of Sustainable Transportation, has done a lot of work to present the evidence for roundabouts and clarify the conditions and designs that make them work. Done well, they enhance the safety of all road users, minimize congestion, cost less to maintain, etc. And all of these benefits are easily measurable statistically, since roundabouts have already been installed in several different types of intersections around the world. Some European cities have even implemented "naked streets" - removing all traffic signals and road signs. Hardly an experimental procedure at this point.

In light of the last post on this blog, it should be added that roundabouts can be aesthetically interesting elements of a city. At least more so than some lights hanging on a wire, in my opinion. As long as nothing obstructs vision, neighborhood groups could put their imagination to work.

I've found most of the lingering suspicion over roundabouts here to be more visceral than anything else. I've heard one person call them "hippie traffic science." (You know, the old sex-drugs-and -enhancing-traffic-flow thing). How these got caught up in Vietnam-era cultural divides is beyond me. Another person just doesn't like following the Europeans in anything.

There have been some more substantive concerns as well. Public services worry about access for emergency vehicles. Some blind activists see roundabouts as more dangerous than traffic signals, because the blind can hear the break in traffic for a red light. Also, a study of roundabouts in New Zealand between 1996 and 2000 indicated that they can actually decrease cyclist safety. This data has led some bicycle advocacy groups in Europe to oppose all roundabouts. However, in the last few years, traffic engineers have developed some ways around this problem. All of these issues have been researched and plenty of solutions are available to allay many of the major concerns.

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

Austin has put a bunch of these in around town, and they have really beautified the areas in which they have been placed and have calmed traffic. I don't understand why there would be any objection to them--the substantive ones you raised here can be overcome easily. It always astounds me that people actually don't mind living in squalor and imminent danger, so long as nothing stops them from driving fast in their precious automobiles.