Roundabout Myths (video)

A local engineering firm is out with a new video debunking 10 common roundabout “myths,” which surely wouldn’t stump our wonderful readership.

Rochester City Councilor Michael Wojcik posted a link to this video on his blog:

While I suspect the publishers would never admit it, poor decision making by the Rochester City Council likely led to the creation of this educational video. The firm that created this video, Stonebrooke Engineering, was the same firm that recommended a round about at the intersection of 16th street and Mayowood Road. Many of the 10 myths debunked here were the talking points from Mayor Brede and Councilmember Ed Hruska who led the decision to ignore the professional recommendation. They actually show our intersection in the video.

The star-studded video feature stars:

  • University of St. Thomas students
  • Joe Gustafson, Washington County Traffic Engineer
  • Ken Johnson, MnDOT Pavement & Traffic Engineer
  • Sarah Jane Nicoll, Mayor of Sartell
  • An uncredited motorist failing to stop behind the crosswalk at 4:42
  • Tiffani Nielson, MN State Patrol Lieutenant
  • Jodi Teich, Stearns County Engineer
  • A City of Minneapolis truck hanging out in the City of Richfield at 11:50 (!?)
  • The Rochester intersection to which CM Wojcik alludes, at 13:00

I’m expecting this to receive numerous nominations during award and festival season.

24 thoughts on “Roundabout Myths (video)

  1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    The one claim I am skeptical of is the idea of electrical and maintenance costs between the two. Roundabouts don’t have the control lights, but they require a lot more lighting both at the intersection itself and on the approaches. Plus, they generally have a planted center island that needs to be irrigated and maintained.

    I made this argument to former Richfield Public Works director Mike Eastling, who replied that he thought spending staff time and money maintaining plantings was a better use than having them replace signal bulbs and wiring that create delays and provide for less safety. Fair point.

    Nice footage of the Richfield roundabouts around the beginning and end. In Richfield’s case, the business argument becomes a little hard. On the one hand, the four gas stations around the Portland intersection have become one since construction (two were bought out and razed, one went out of business). On the other hand, the Richfield Parkway roundabout is the main access point to Cedar Point Commons (Home Depot/Target/Chipotle/Caribou/etc), and seems to function really well. (Other great examples in the Southdale area include multiple on 70th St and one on Hazelton Rd.)

    It is pretty rough to cross on foot at Richfield Parkway one. Hopefully the increased development in that area will allow motorists to get out of freeway mode faster.

  2. Seldon

    Their comment about not safe for bikes and pedestrians is wrong. In Minnesota, in spite of the law, cars DO NOT yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. They also tend to ignore the fact that bikes can have the use of the full lane.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      One interesting point from Richfield’s deliberations on additional roundabouts was examining existing ped behavior at signals. The engineers found that pedestrians are in compliance with the walk signal only about 50% of the time. (Not sure how rigorous an analysis this was, but having been out there myself, that sounds about right.)

      That means that for at least half the pedestrians, they’re already dodging cars — and doing so at a much higher speed. So even if the resulting condition is that no cars stop for pedestrians, it’s still a safety improvement for the half who would cross against the light. And of course, a number much greater than 0% stop. (Not nearly as close to 100% as I would like, of course. I’d like to see police “sting” enforcement of these crosswalks.)

      1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

        I wonder if sharks teeth at the crossings would help?

        U.S. drivers have become quite comfortable blowing crossings (and not stopping before turning right on red and not stopping at stop signs and a few other things).

        1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

          Well, two thoughts. I don’t think it’d do any harm, but because yield lines/sharks teeth are not commonly used in the US, I’m not sure they’re that meaingful to motorists. (One of the only regular uses is at roundabouts, right behind the circular portion.)

          The second thought is that I think motorists are aware they must stop for pedestrians at crosswalks. I just think that their desire to get the hell out of the roundabout fast is overwhelming whatever desire they have to exercise due care for pedestrian safety. I am hopeful that moving the crosswalks a little farther back (as Richfield plans to do for two new roundabouts) will be helpful, providing more space for cars to stop without feeling like the tail of their car is still in the circle.

          1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

            Agree with moving the crosswalks back. Perhaps raising or tabling the crossing would help as well?

            Outside the U.S. the use of sharks teeth provides very clear right-of-way. If a car is given the teeth then they are 100% responsible for insuring that they do not hit anyone already in or approaching the crossing. Our current crossings do not have this. There is considerable ambiguity, for most people, about who has right-of-way. When does someone walking or riding a bicycle have right-of-way? What line do they have to have crossed?

      2. Rosa

        I’m not sure that’s a good take on that information – people are probably crossing against the light because it’s no safer than crossing with the light, because of turning cars not yeilding appropriately. It’s often safer to cross against the light because of a gap in traffic than crossing with the walk light that cars turn through.

        1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

          “Dodging cars” was a poor word choice on my part. What I really meant was: they’re already crossing in conditions where they don’t expect cars to yield. They *should* expect cars to yield at a roundabout, of course, but even in the worst case of no motorists obeying the law, it’s still an improvement over crossing against the light at a signal.

      3. Monte Castleman

        Are these just pedestrians crossing when motorists actually have the ROW, or does this include those that start walking during the clearance interval, but hurry up and make it across?

        1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

          I believe it was those crossing in conflict with either a red or a vehicular protected left. It you simply counted those who crossed against the upraised hand or flashing hand, you’d probably have a percentage much higher than 50%. Heck, even in downtown Minneapolis, you probably have 75%+ people technically in disobedience of the signal. With the long cycles required for accessibility, the vast majority of citizens can cross the street much faster than the light is set up for.

          1. Monte Castleman

            Hence back to my idea of eliminating the pedestrian change interval combined with a countdown that starts at the beginning of the walk interval.. You’ve legalized something that’s safe and the vast majority of pedestrians do anyway.

            1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

              Or just change the law to make the entire pedestrian phase simply advisory, and the only actual right-of-way/legal crossing be from if the crossing is in conflict with other traffic. That could easily be done on a state level, and I think makes a lot more sense in the era of countdown timers and long countdowns (where peds are really fully able to make a good judgment call themselves).

  3. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    They failed quite badly on Myth #3. In Europe a standard roundabout (vs a mini roundabout) is considered much more dangerous for vehicular cyclists than a signalized or sign controlled junction. The two most dangerous junctions in The Netherlands are both roundabouts with painted bike lanes through them (vs protected bikeways around them). I’ve ridden through both and they don’t feel any safer than their record indicates.

    With protected bikeways a roundabout is considered much safer for bicycle riders.

    This gets us to their comments on novice vs experienced cyclists and their apparent ignorance of protected bikeway design. Their notion of an experienced cyclist is someone who rides in traffic – a vehicular cyclist or bicycle driver. I raced for a number of years and today ride about 2500 miles per year. I’d consider myself experienced. Yet I strongly prefer a well designed and constructed protected bikeway. I know the statistics for vehicular cyclists and it’s not good. There’s a reason that a cyclist in the U.S. (where we’ve promoted vehicular cycling and bicycle driving for the past 40 years) is about 9 times as likely to be seriously injured or killed as one in The Netherlands where they’ve spent the past 40 years building protected bikeways.

    The ignorance of bicycling and bicycle infrastructure displayed by Stonebrooke Engineering in this video is surprising and quite disappointing.

  4. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    Honestly, this video is pretty good. Mad props for the excellent usage of St. Thomas students!

    I agree though with Walker about the skepticism about bike-friendlyiness. That said, most of these places and corners in the film are likely terrible for bicycling regardless.

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

      I agree with you that the rest of the video is pretty good. Difficult to get past Myth 3 for me though.

      Would these places be terrible for bicycling if designed properly? How many of them should be designed for bicycle riders (and pedestrians)?

    1. Monte Castleman

      To determine for sure if a roundabout would work in a given place, you need to go into such things as turning counts, peak vehicle volume, pedestrian volume, and entry path radius that are very specific to a given site and proposed design all interact with each other affecting entry capacity. But there are some very general screening guideline.

      First, traffic should be reasonably balanced. If it’s not, you’re delaying all the traffic on the main street all the time whether or not there’s a car on the side street, instead of stopping it occasionally, and there’s not a lot of gaps for side traffic to enter the roundabout.

      Per the Mn/DOT roadway design manual, a single lane roundabout will usually work up to 25,000 AADT, and a multi-lane roundabout can handle 40,000-55,000. So a single lane roundabout might not work, say, where you have a pair of three lane roads that are each pushing the 20,000 limit.

      Per my previous research, there’s only about two dozen intersections in Minnesota over 55,000 or so, meaning they’re beyond consideration for multi-lane roundbouts.

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