Herald Journal - Enterprise Dispatch - Delano Herald Journal
Circles of safety
April 11, 2011

By Starrla Cray
Staff Writer

CARVER COUNTY, MN – Love ‘em or hate ‘em, roundabouts have become a daily sight for many local commuters.

“They must be working, because they’re putting them in everywhere,” said P.J. Burandt, who lives on Highway 7, just east of the roundabout on Highway 10.

About a mile away from Burandt is another roundabout, at the intersection of Highway 7 and Highway 25.

“We deal with them all the time, and personally, I like them,” Burandt said. “Traffic runs pretty smoothly, other than the occasional person who doesn’t know what to do.”

Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) officials are happy with the roundabouts, too.

“According to nationwide data, single-lane roundabouts offer a 40 percent reduction in overall crashes and a 75 percent reduction in injury crashes,” said Ken Johnson, pavement marking and work zone engineer in the MnDOT’s office of traffic safety and technology.

Locally, many of the roundabouts haven’t been in place for the five-year data-gathering period, but so far, Johnson said the results are encouraging.

Before and after
Three years before the roundabout opened on State Highway 284 and 13th Street/County Highway 32, there were 14 overall crashes, including one fatal and seven injuries.

Since the roundabout opened in November 2009, there has been only one crash, with no injuries.

The second roundabout in Waconia, at State Highway 284 and Sparrow Road/15th Street, has had two overall crashes including one injury since it opened in September 2008. In the three years prior to the roundabout, there were two overall crashes including two injuries at that intersection.

In 2013, the city of Waconia is planning to construct a third roundabout, at the intersection of Highway 284 and 10th Street.

“That’s the only one [in Carver County] that we’re aware of on the state highway system, although the local agencies might be considering them on local roads,” Johnson noted.

In nearby Hennepin County, the city of Minnetrista is working with MnDOT for a roundabout on State Highway 7 at Kings Point Road. Construction is expected to start in late 2011.

The roundabout on Highway 7 and County Highway 10 has had 13 crashes with five injuries since it opened in July 2008. In the five years before the roundabout, 22 crashes were reported, including one fatality and nine injuries.

The roundabout at the intersection of Highway 7 and Highway 25 opened two months later, and has had nine overall crashes including two injuries. In the five years before the roundabout, the intersection had 32 crashes, including one fatal and 15 injuries.

In general, MnDOT expects a slight increase in crashes in the month or two after any change in traffic control.

“This is expected, because drivers become used to an intersection control and may be surprised if there is a change in what they are supposed to do at the intersection,” Johnson noted.

Initial opposition
When they were new, some local residents were opposed to roundabouts in the area, but many have since reconsidered.

“I was very much against them at first,” commented Howard Lake resident Mary Streich, who uses both Highway 7 roundabouts twice a day.

“Overall, it’s nice not to have to wait and risk trying to get onto the highway with people traveling 60-plus miles per hour,” Streich noted.

According to nationwide data, about two-thirds of people typically feel “negative” or “strongly negative” to the implementation of roundabouts before they are constructed.

However, after they’ve been in place for a while, about two-thirds report a “positive” or “strongly positive” response.

“It completely flip-flops,” Johnson said.

Some residents have not warmed up to the roundabouts, however.

“People are still unfamiliar with them,” one Lester Prairie resident commented. “There are still people who stop at the yield sign, even though there is no traffic in or near the roundabout.”

Driving tips
For those who struggle with roundabouts, Johnson said it is sometimes helpful to think of it as a revolving door.

“Let people who are already in go first,” he explained.

Some residents have also cited issues with large vehicles not being able to pass through the roundabouts, but Johnson said they are designed with buses and semis in mind.

“On the central island, there is a paved area at a different angle than the surface,” he said. “It’s meant for the trailer wheels to off-track and go through it.”

Burandt commented that he has seen many large semis go through the two roundabouts near his property on Highway 7 with no problem.

97 and counting
So far, 97 roundabouts have been constructed in Minnesota, and three are under construction, according to a report from MnDOT.

Eighty-four more are either in the design, planning, or consideration stages.

The cost of a roundabout greatly depends on the amount of “approach work” needed, and is often comparable to that of a traffic light project, according to Johnson.

New turn lanes, signs, and other modifications to make the transition safe and comfortable are often needed for both roundabouts and traffic light intersections.

To learn more about Minnesota roundabouts, go to www.dot.state.mn.us/stateaid and click on “roundabout list” on the right column.

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