While statistics indicate that roundabouts can be a safer alternative at intersections, it’s safe to say that in general they still take a little getting used to. Common sights in European countries, roundabouts also have their place in New England. In Connecticut, indications are that they are going to become more common.
Roundabouts are one-way circular intersections where traffic flows around a central island. Having a roundabout means you don’t need a traffic signal, so instead of stopping traffic they force it to move more slowly, as in from 20 to 25 miles per hour. In that way they reduce congestion and improve safety.
The statistics? According to a study from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, changing from a traffic signal intersection to a roundabout can reduce serious crashes by 78 percent, and reduce accidents overall by 48 percent.
Connecticut’s Department of Transportation reports an 81 percent reduction in severe crashes and a 49 percent reduction overall in the five roundabouts it has installed. As reported recently in the Journal Inquirer, of Manchester, the roundabout in Killingworth has also seen a significant reduction in crashes and injuries since the DOT made modifications to it in 2007. The improvement, which earned a National Roadway Safety Award in 2013, has led to a reduction of crashes by 50 percent, and to injuries by 78 percent.
These are obviously significant improvements, but roundabouts aren’t the answer to every traffic dilemma. According to Matthew Vail, a DOT engineer, considerations when it comes to roundabouts include traffic volume at an intersection and cost, since roundabouts can be a more expensive option. They also take up more room, so rights-of-way and ownership of nearby properties can also be factors. The upside is that once they’re in, roundabouts are less expensive to maintain.
More roundabouts are on the way, and while we’re getting used to them it’s worth recognizing that they’re serving a most valuable purpose of increasing safety.