Roundabouts Can Save Lives, Money Too
Roundabouts, AKA rotaries or traffic circles, have long been fixtures at road intersections in Europe and New England. They've been slower to take hold in the rest of America, but communities across Minnesota have begun to appreciate their advantages over traffic lights in safety and efficient vehicle flows.
For some drivers, it's a steep learning curve to yield to traffic from the left before entering a roundabout, then claim the right of way once inside it. My dad told of when his family moved from New York to Rhode Island in the 1930s and his father first confronted a roundabout, he stopped dead for a while to figure out his next move. I still see that kind of bewilderment at the newer roundabouts in the Twin Cities.
Now traffic circles are cropping up in Greater Minnesota towns like New Prague, Hutchinson and Mankato. According to the Mankato Free Press, that area will have eight or more of them open to traffic in the next few years. The newspaper reported on a state traffic engineer's pitch last week to the North Mankato City Council to build a roundabout on a Hwy. 14 overpass.
Council members didn't jump at the opportunity, although the engineer, Scott Thompson of the Minnesota Department of Transportation, pointed out that it would save the city money. MnDOT will cover half the cost of either traffic lights or a $1.5 million roundabout, but with the first option the city would be mostly on the hook for more than $1 million to replace deteriorated pavement.
One council member voiced worries about students from a nearby middle school walking across the intersection, but Thompson said roundabouts are actually safer for pedestrians than signal lights because they minimize the traffic lanes to be crossed on foot at one time.
The council will make a decision later this year, the newspaper reported, after members have a chance to try out several other roundabouts opening soon in the area. With any luck, they'll drive through without stopping to puzzle out which way to go.