WDAY.com

WDAZ: Your Home Team

Published September 02, 2013, 01:49 PM

Roundabouts planned for Grand Forks streets

They’re circular, involve only right turns and when mentioned strike fear into the heart of motorists unfamiliar with them. Studies say they reduce the severity of accidents, improve traffic flow and are safer for pedestrians. They’re roundabouts and they’re coming to Grand Forks.

By: Brandi Jewett, Grand Forks Herald

They’re circular, involve only right turns and when mentioned strike fear into the heart of motorists unfamiliar with them.

Studies say they reduce the severity of accidents, improve traffic flow and are safer for pedestrians.

They’re roundabouts and they’re coming to Grand Forks.

Roundabouts are circular intersections lacking traffic lights or stop signs. Instead, drivers only need to complete right-hand turns to enter or leave the circle.

The city will be constructing two of the rotaries next summer, one near the west side of Columbia Mall and the other near new development on the city’s south end.

“The federal government has been pushing cities to build roundabouts for quite some time,” City Engineer Al Grasser said.

The government’s enthusiasm comes from studies indicating roundabouts can be safer, more efficient because they increase traffic capacity and cost less to maintain than normal intersections as electricity isn’t needed for stoplights, Grasser said.

Safety

The numbers vary on just how much safer installing a roundabout can make an intersection.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety puts the overall crash reduction rate at 37 percent. Accidents resulting in injuries or deaths also dropped by 75 percent and 90 percent, respectively.

Grasser said that’s because the types of accidents that can occur in a roundabout occur at slower speeds and at different angles.

When approaching a roundabout, driver will note the road will begin to narrow and cause them to slow down before entering the rotary.

Collisions in roundabouts tend to be less direct than others, with very few accidents involving rear-ending or side impacts.

That’s because there are less impact points in a roundabout than a traditional intersection. A four-way intersection can have up to 32 places within it that cars can strike compared to eight places in a roundabout, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Public hesitation

Despite their perceived benefits, Grasser said he expects residents to question the need for roundabouts and even oppose them before they are installed.

“We tend to feel uncomfortable with them until we see them operate,” he said. “They’re different, but they just take some getting used to.”

Surveys conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety indicate public opinion about roundabouts shifts dramatically after they are put into place.

In Fargo, roundabouts were initially eyed with suspicion but the city has since received positive feedback on the move to roundabouts, according to Grasser.

If residents want to test drive a roundabout before tackling the ones being constructed next summer, they can head to Grand Forks International Airport, which has one installed on its entrance road.

The two planned for Grand Forks will be smaller in diameter and require lower speeds than the one at the airport, Grasser said.

He expects the city to conduct a public education campaign about the roundabouts and their operation before construction on them is completed.

Ideal locations

Drivers who use Grand Forks’ busiest streets won’t have to worry about encountering the roundabouts.

The first will be located the three-way intersection at 24th Avenue South and South 34th Street just west of the Columbia Mall.

The layout and curve of the streets makes a roundabout at that location ideal, according to Grasser.

“It’s hard to get the streets to square up,” he said.

The second will be constructed on the city’s far south end near Ruemmele Road. The roundabout would connect South 34th Street and 40th Avenue South, allowing traffic to stay on 40th Avenue without stopping.

Planners hope this would keep traffic from exiting onto Ruemmele Road and speeding through the residential area along it.

Grasser said he wanted to start with one roundabout, but the timing of available money for the projects has the city building both next year.

Tags: