Highway roundabouts have proven their value

Not everyone loves roundabouts. In fact, most probably grumble about these new traffic constructs when we come across them.

Which way do I go? Which lane am I supposed to be in? Is that car coming at me going to stop? Who invented these confounded obstacles?

But a new study from the Minnesota Department of Transportation shows that roundabouts have reduced the number of accidents and are the way to go.

The study looked at accident statistics for 144 of the state’s 200 roundabouts, the first of which was built in 1995. For starters, there has not yet been a multi-vehicle fatal accident at a roundabout in Minnesota. Comparing before and after data, there’s been an 83-percent reduction in the rate of accidents involving serious injuries. All told, injury accidents have been reduced by 42 percent.

Those are impressive numbers and appear to more than make up for any discomfort people feel about the new arrangements.

In addition to reducing serious injury accidents, roundabouts have lower maintenance costs than a traffic signal intersection.

Despite that, they’re not about to quickly multiply across the state. Derek Leuer, a MnDOT traffic safety engineer, said the decision to replace a traditional intersection with a roundabout is made on a case-by-case basis, and many of those decisions are made by local entities — where, as was the case with the proposed roundabout on Rochester’s 16th Street Southwest, local resistance can cause elected officials to choose traditional designs over roundabouts.

How and why do roundabouts work so well? They’re able to handle more traffic in less time than a traditional intersection. Traffic flow is improved even through everyone has to slow down to navigate the roundabout. That also accounts for the reduction in serious accidents.

All of that makes sense — so much sense, in fact, that any concerns about roundabouts should be left in the rear view mirror.

— Rochester Post Bulletin