Are Roundabouts Safer for Pedestrians?

Urban planners and some bicycle and pedestrian advocates tell me that “roundabouts are safer than traditional signalized intersections.” It comes up in the context of conversations about pedestrian-friendly urban street design. I hear this line a lot and see it on websites and in social media posts. In most cases, folks are parroting various viral videos and news articles they’ve seen or they’re just repeating what some traffic engineer told them. Empirical evidence shows and I will not deny that roundabouts are safer and more efficient for motorized vehicles, however pedestrians and bicyclists are another matter.

At the end of October, The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) released “A study of the Traffic Safety at Roundabouts in Minnesota.” It got a lot of press because, like most DOTs, MnDOT is pushing roundabouts, even in urban areas. Currently there are around 200 roundabouts in the state, most in suburbs, exurbs and rural locations but, over the years, MnDOT has also proposed building them in the Twin Cities, including at the Dale Street I-94 off-ramps and as part of the “35 Access project” back in 2004. DOTs like roundabouts because they reduce serious and fatal crashes for motor vehicles. More importantly, they can handle more motor-vehicle thru-put (“Level of Service” for cars) and they have a longer “service life” and don’t require electricity or traffic control devices. So they are cheaper to maintain than traditional signalized intersections. The only problem is there’s almost no good data showing that roundabouts are safer or better for pedestrians. In fact there is some data showing they are more dangerous and plenty of evidence that they greatly reduce “Level of Service” for pedestrians. As such, roundabouts should be resisted in urban areas, particularly if your city wants to create density, walkability and pedestrian safety.

First, what do we mean by “roundabouts?” We’re not talking about little neighborhood traffic circles on bicycle boulevards. The photo at the beginning of this article, taken from the cover of the MnDOT report depicts a typical roundabout as envisioned by most state DOTs. It is telling that the example they choose for their cover has no sidewalks and no pedestrian crossings at all.

Having lived in New York City, Boston and other parts of New England where automobile roundabouts have existed since the 1920s, I have experienced urban roundabouts as both a driver and a pedestrian. Roundabouts waste huge amounts of space versus a normal signalized intersection. The space in the middle is completely useless. You can’t put a building in it, because there’s no way to safely reach it and you can’t walk into it as a pedestrian without getting trapped or hit by a car. Instead, you have to walk around them. This greatly increases walking distances and travel times for pedestrians. As such, roundabouts decrease pedestrian “Level of Service” and waste valuable urban space.

Additionally, as a pedestrian crossing an arm of the circle, you have no idea whether a vehicle in the roundabout is going to exit the circle in front of you or continue around it. Because drivers are either looking for their exits or trying to merge with vehicles in the roundabout, they aren’t paying attention to pedestrians and behave more unpredictably.

In contrast, at a traditional signalized intersection, there are turn lanes and/or vehicles occasionally use their turn signals. If I see a vehicle in a turn lane or signaling, I have some idea that it’s turning and whether it’s safe to cross. If the intersection’s signals feature a “Lead Pedestrian Interval” walk signal, it’s even safer because I am given a head-start across the intersection, so motorists are more likely to see me before turning. If the intersection or the city also bans “right turns on red”, it’s the safest of all, because it all but eliminates “right-hook” pedestrian crashes. If a vehicle is going straight across the intersection, my crossing signal is red and theirs is green. People run red lights but, if I’m paying attention, I can see this unfolding and react accordingly.

None of this predictability exists with a roundabout. For all these reasons– unpredictability, safety, distance and travel time– crossing a roundabout as a pedestrian can be awful. The statistics and photos that follow bear this out.

Keene, New Hampshire Roundabout

 

MnDOT’s Roundabout Study

Reading the recent MnDOT roundabout study, their method of analysis is solid. First they gathered crash data for several years at signalized or 4-way-stop intersections before a roundabout was installed and divided this by the total number of vehicles entering the intersections (traffic counts) to get an overall before-conversion “crash rate”. Then they collected crash data for the same number of years after roundabouts were installed and divided this by the total number of vehicles entering the new roundabouts to get an overall after-conversion crash rate. Then they compared the before and after data to determine whether roundabouts were safer. They broke this data down by crash types and severity. Theirs is not the first study to do this. There have been dozens.

The problem is they didn’t apply the same level of analysis to pedestrian crashes. They included pedestrian crash data but they didn’t do actual pedestrian counts to determine a “crash rate.” Most of the current roundabouts are in locations that have very low or non-existent pedestrian traffic and there is currently no reliable way for DOTs to automate pedestrian counts. Counts have to be done by human volunteers with clipboards and count sheets. MnDOT almost never does these and only a few U.S. cities do them in a comprehensive way. None have done comprehensive pedestrian count and crash studies before and after the installation of roundabouts at intersections, particularly intersections with significant pedestrian volumes.

But, even with just crash data and no count data, MnDOT’s study shows that roundabouts dramatically increased pedestrian crashes. Pedestrian crashes went from 10 to 18. Single lane crashes went up 17.3% (page 22) and dual lane crashes went up 500% (page 26) …for a total increase in pedestrian crashes of 70.2%. To be fair, these are statistically insignificant numbers because most roundabouts are in locations with little or no pedestrian traffic …but, combined with other evidence discussed later, these numbers suggest that roundabouts are actually less safe for pedestrians than traditional intersections. Nowhere in the report is this pedestrian data highlighted or summarized. The only data summarized is the benefits of roundabouts for cars and car crashes.

According to the study, bike crashes went down slightly but, again, the overall numbers are tiny and without bike count data and more detailed crash information, it’s hard to say why. The very design of the roundabout may have deterred cyclists from entering it. A very cursory look at “fatal and serious injury crashes exploratory analysis” (table 11) shows one of the 6 “severe or fatal” crashes was a bicyclist hit by a vehicle exiting the roundabout. Since their “Crash Rate” analysis formula (on page 21) doesn’t include pedestrian or bike counts (but just vehicle ADT), it’s useless.

What’s fascinating about the report (and others) is that the overall number of crashes, even for motor vehicles, actually increased 15.6%! (page 28). It’s just that the overall severity of these crashes (for cars) decreased. So certain types of crashes like “Sideswipe Same Direction” increased 683% but the more severe “Right Angle” crashes declined 35.8%, and everyone was moving slower. So, despite the increased number of crashes, the overall severity was lower. This is what roundabout proponents mean by “safety” for cars. In urban areas, proponents will often cite this “safety” but I could find no statistical data that show reductions in pedestrian injuries or fatalities.

Richfield, Minnesota Roundabout

 

The NACTO Report

The lack of pedestrian data and anecdotal evidence of roundabout danger and inconvenience to pedestrians is corroborated by a National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) study. Here’s a few quotations:

“Current international research shows that modern roundabouts improve vehicular and pedestrian safety compared to conventional intersections. However, their effects on pedestrian safety in the U.S. remain unsubstantiated. Complicating this problem is a scarcity of pedestrian accident data at roundabouts, especially at intersection locations that were reconstructed as roundabouts and could potentially provide critical before/after accident statistics.”

“Relatively little pedestrian data exist compared to vehicle crash data; even less pedestrian crash data exist for roundabout treatments. Yet, roundabouts are often proposed for traffic calming in high pedestrian areas”

“Indeed, anecdotal evidence leads to concerns that pedestrians may minimize their walk distance by taking short cuts across the central island and cause impatient drivers to challenge pedestrians.”

Note that even the authors of this study acknowledge here and in table 1.1 that traffic circles increase crossing distances for pedestrians, to an annoying enough degree that pedestrians try to jaywalk on them. The report cannot find a single statistical analysis case study where:

1. someone did regular pedestrian counts at a traditional, signalized intersection to determine average daily counts for pedestrians and;
2. collected at least 5-10 years of pedestrian accident data at that intersection;
3. Then did the same thing after the intersection was converted to a roundabout (pedestrian counts and accident data for 5-10 years).

Because no such statistical analysis appears to exist, the authors had to resort to computer simulations for their proposed roundabout in Hillsboro, North Carolina. Anyone who is being honest knows computer models like SYNCHRO and VISSIM are fraught with problems and are only as good as the data put into them (which the authors acknowledge is non-existent). So any results obtained are “theoretical”. Again, I quote the document–

“Statistical analysis in the context of roundabout safety evaluation would ideally have pedestrian crash data before and after an intersection is reconstructed as a roundabout. Better yet, to account for other possible causal factors, it is desirable to have multiple reconstructions sites. Persaud had nearly 30 intersections in his vehicle safety analysis. Yet, as discussed previously, there is very little data for pedestrian accidents.”

The report concludes: “The advantage of statistical analysis is that the results can be very pragmatic and statements about the results of the study can be authoritatively made” …but it has no statistical analysis. So nothing about this study is “authoritative.” It’s just a literature survey and computer simulation for a proposed roundabout.

 

The FHWA Report

While offering all sorts of guidelines, The Federal Highway Administration Informational Guide on Roundabouts similarly lacks any real pedestrian or bicycle data. In Chapter 2, page 23, it cites one U.S. study of just 11 intersections to support its contention that roundabouts are “safer” but says that “This study yielded insufficient data to draw conclusions regarding the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians.” On page 24, it makes the inference that, because low vehicle speeds “reduce crash severity for pedestrians and bicyclists” and roundabouts lower speeds, then roundabouts must be better for pedestrians and bicyclists. This is like saying “correlation proves causality”, which it doesn’t, and it ignores many facets of roundabouts that are potentially hazardous to pedestrians. On page 25 and 105-110, it says roundabouts have “fewer conflict points, which means fewer opportunities for collisions” …but, as the more rigorous MnDOT study showed, the number of collisions actually INCREASED. Only their severity decreased. So, once again, the report’s statements read like theoretical philosophy, not science. With double lane roundabouts, even the FHWA acknowledges that:

“Pedestrians crossing double-lane roundabouts are exposed for a longer time and to faster vehicles. They can also be obscured from, or not see, approaching vehicles in adjacent lanes if vehicles in the nearest lane yield to them. Children, wheelchair users, and visually impaired pedestrians face particular risks. Bicycles are also more exposed to severe conflicts when choosing to circulate with motor vehicles.”

With all roundabouts (on page 33) it acknowledges that they

“allow pedestrians to cross one direction of traffic at a time; however, traffic may be moving (albeit at a slow speed), thus making it more challenging to judge gaps, especially for visually impaired users, children, and the elderly. …Roundabouts pose problems at several points of the crossing experience, from the perspective of information access. When crossing a roundabout, there are several areas of difficulty for the blind and or visually impaired pedestrian. Unless these issues are addressed by a design, the intersection is ‘inaccessible’ and may not be permissible under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).” (…And later, on page 40), ” Current guidelines do not specifically address ways to make roundabouts accessible.”

With bicyclists, the FHWA report states that “Roundabouts may not provide safety benefits to bicyclists. …The complexity of vehicle interactions within a roundabout leaves a cyclist vulnerable, and for this reason, bike lanes within the circulatory roadway should never be used.” A lot of the foreign studies in the report (discussed below) showed increased risk for cyclists.

Chapter 5 of the report summarizes some foreign data from various countries. I’ve tried to access and sift through some of these. A French study of 15 towns showed statistically insignificant (0.7%) risk reduction for pedestrians in roundabouts over “All Crossroads”, and a 3.6% increase in risk for cyclists but the methodology of the study is unclear.

A British study showed more improvement but the study’s methodology is also unclear. Same for a Norwegian study that may or may not have included pedestrian counts and crash data from before/after conversions.

An oft-cited 1993 Dutch study by Schoon and van Minnen of 181 intersections converted to roundabouts showed huge improvements but the FHWA report didn’t spell out the study’s methodology and I couldn’t find a copy of the study online, only references to it.

Ultimately, when it comes to pedestrians and cyclists, the entire 277 page FHWA report is mostly based on theory and has scant data to show roundabouts are safer for pedestrians than standard, signalized intersections– something it more or less acknowledges. The report is overwhelmingly focused on cars and driver safety, just like the FHWA.

Lakeville, Minnesota Roundabout

 

IIHS Studies and Conclusion

Finally consider two articles from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), once given to me by an MnDOT employee as evidence of roundabout safety. The first, from 2013 says that so called “non-injury crashes” actually increased at the two discussed Bellingham intersections when they were redesigned with traffic circles. This is similar to what MnDOT found. The author wants to blame “driver confusion” but they have no polling or scientific evidence for this and the cause is irrelevant. The article has zero pedestrian statistics. Everything is about moving more cars, faster. Everyone should look at the aerial picture of one of the roundabouts. I include it below. It doubles or triples the crossing distances for pedestrians because the crosswalks have to be set back so far from the circle to be even marginally safe. Pedestrians are forced to cross “double jeopardy” two-lane highways with no traffic light. The intersection now wastes double its original space. Were this in an urban area or town, you could fit four additional properties on this corner in the extra, wasted space. What it does accomplish is increasing the average volume and speed of traffic that can traverse the intersection, something that appeals to car-centric DOTs. This isn’t even an area where people walk. Note there are no sidewalks on the east-west legs of the roundabout. This is a car-oriented strip-mall area.

 

The second IIHS article is even more revealing. It references experiences of Carmel, Indiana from 2010. There are no pedestrian counts. The sum total of its statistics are as follows:

“Brainard credits roundabouts with keeping the number of traffic injuries from growing along with the city’s road network. In 2003, there were 252 crashes causing injury on 220 miles of roads, according to Carmel officials. By 2008, the city had 395 road miles, but injury crashes went down slightly”

“A 2001 Institute study of 23 intersections in the United States found that converting intersections from traffic signals or stop signs to roundabouts reduced injury crashes by 80 percent and all crashes by 40 percent.”

The first stat tells us nothing except some Indianapolis suburban community is building a ton of new roads (a red flag for being a “pedestrian-friendly community”) with a goal of “managing high traffic volumes”– also a red flag, since it’s impossible to build your way out of traffic congestion. We don’t know what “Vehicle Miles Traveled” on those roads were and, most importantly, we don’t know what the number of pedestrian trips or intersection crossings on those roads were because Carmel, like most towns and cities in the USA, doesn’t collect that data in any comprehensive or scientific way, if at all.

The second, older, national statistic doesn’t tell us what pedestrian volumes were before and after on those 23 intersections so we don’t know the crash-rate-per-intersection-crossing before and after traffic circle installation. We don’t know the type of intersections or much of anything …and there’s no link to the original study even though it’s often cited as a source on various state DOT websites. I highly doubt they did any pedestrian counts. All the quotes from people in the article are completely car-oriented– how it’s improved things for cars.

Keystone Project Roundabout, Indiana

Dale Street and I-94 offramps, St Paul, MN

 

I urge everyone to look at the photograph of their Keystone “Double Teardrop” roundabout. It is one of the worst pedestrian nightmares I’ve ever seen. It makes the Maryland Avenue overpass at I-35E look like a pedestrian paradise. Stop for a moment and imagine walking across this overpass as it’s currently designed versus walking across it as a straight overpass with parallel ramps ending in a pair of synced traffic signals (like Dale Street at I-94 in Saint Paul). This Keystone roundabout design adds at least an eighth of a mile to pedestrian crossing distances when crossing the highway, and even more when crossing parallel with the highway because the crosswalks have to be set back so far from the roundabout. Pedestrians are forced to make two crossings of double-jeopardy, high-speed, blind-corner slip turns, all without signals. Slip turns and unsignalized two-lane crossings are something that even engineers will admit increase pedestrian crashes and we’ve already seen multiple people hit on Snelling Avenue by Macalaster, on Lexington Parkway and other 4-lane streets with medians and no signals… and these are on straight roads! Medians on 4-lane boulevards reduce crashes versus no median …but both are much less safe than signals.

On top of this, look how much extra concrete and wasted space the Keystone design adds to the intersection. You could put in 4-8 additional buildings (houses, retail or apartments) if this was a traditional overpass with tight, parallel ramps and traffic lights, where the ramps intersect the overpass road at right angles. You can see this traditional design where Dale Street passes over Interstate 94, an area where double roundabouts were once proposed and (fortunately) rejected.

What the “Keystone Project” roundabout design is good at is moving more cars at a faster average speed, with less severe car collisions. It even says the roundabout will “shorten commute times.” If your goal is moving more cars, faster, then roundabouts are for you. If your goals are to control traffic for pedestrian crossings, shorten pedestrian trip distances and make a pedestrian-friendly city or town, then roundabouts are completely counterproductive. So please stop saying they are “safer” or “better” for pedestrians. They’re not.

Double off-ramp roundabouts like those once proposed for Dale Street and I-94.

 

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73 Responses to Are Roundabouts Safer for Pedestrians?

  1. Melissa Wenzel November 17, 2017 at 7:20 am #

    Well written. A bunch of us keep debating the safety of roundabouts on social media and glad to finally get to the “safe for whom?” part. Question: where do we go from here?

  2. Monte Castleman
    Monte Castleman November 17, 2017 at 8:41 am #

    The article was good until it repeated the tired trope about “not building our way out of congestion’. We’ve managed to “build our way out of congestion on the street by my house. People from Blaine aren’t driving down to drive back and forth on the street just because it’s not congested; in fact it’s so built out of congestion that they reduced it from 4 lanes to 2 with no effect on operations. The same principle applies to the freeways; eventually there’s no more people that would want to travel to a given place even if they easily could.

    But for the main point of the article, I agree that I don’t like them at all as a bicyclist or pedestrian because people in cars aren’t forced to stop. Richfield is putting up RRFBs with there’s, but compliance with those isn’t at close to 100% like an ordinary red light, and if there’s a lot of pedestrian traffic the operations benefits for motorists are decreased if people in cars are forced to stop at an entrance. Putting one where everyone on a bicycle or on food needs to cross to get between Minnehaha Parkway and Minnehaha park was a mistake.

    I recall that when the Portland Ave and 66th Street went in, accidents went up unexpectedly. The Strib interviewed people in cars who said “I’m so scared of that thing I step on the gas to get through it as fast as possible”. I’m not a fan of multi-lane roundabouts as a motorist and the problem is that single lane roundabouts only work well with AADTs below 25,000. The Portland / 66th Roundabout exceeds that. My understanding is Richfield is looking to see if the lanes can be reduced in some but not all of the segments, but I can’t help but wonder if a three lane section with signals would have been more appropriate there.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke November 17, 2017 at 9:39 am #

      The congestion line is more about big picture stuff rather than any one specific urban arterial. It’s a general point, I think.

      • Justin Doescher November 17, 2017 at 10:48 am #

        Right, and obviously you can also build so much road that there’s nothing to travel to, which would also end congestion because no one would have anywhere to go, but that’s not really the best idea.

  3. Eric Ecklund November 17, 2017 at 9:15 am #

    How do European countries implement roundabouts? Since they’re far safer and friendly to pedestrians I wonder if their roundabouts are any different from ours? When I lived in Oslo almost everyday I would cross a roundabout to get to/from a transit station, but motorists there seem to be more patient and friendly towards pedestrians because the majority of the time they would yield to me. Here’s the specific roundabout I’m referring to-LINK HERE

    I’ve also walked across roundabouts in St. Louis Park (Louisiana Avenue), Lakeville (County Rd. 50), and Savage. At these intersections I usually had to wait for a break in traffic. During rush hour I would probably have to hope people see me and will yield. Biking across roundabouts via sidewalks is more difficult, but if I’m biking on the road its less difficult. Traffic should, in theory, be slowing down and the suburban roundabouts I’ve encountered have a short bike lane to make it easier. I just have to hope traffic entering sees me and will yield like if I was a car in the roundabout.

    From my experiences it just shows how impatient American drivers are, and they’re willing to shave 5 seconds off their trip by not looking for or even yielding to a pedestrian/biker and getting through the roundabout as quickly as possible.

    • Sean Hayford Oleary
      Sean Hayford Oleary November 17, 2017 at 10:36 am #

      I agree that a lot of the issue seems to be cultural more than design. Compared to roundabouts in Oslo (which I’ve also experienced on foot and bike), American designs tend to be more “standardized” and technically better and more accessible. The difference is the drivers — we seem to be almost universally impatient and unwilling to stop for pedestrians. However, I think part of this issue is what Monte mentions — discomfort and fear as new roundabouts go in. As we get more and more on the road, I think this will dissipate.

      • Justin Doescher November 17, 2017 at 10:52 am #

        Driving culture and infrastructure here is just so focused on speed and convenience and “smoothness” for drivers. Drivers SHOULDN’T approach a new kind of intersection that they’ve never seen before by punching the gas, but they do. We shouldn’t build intersections that are so easy to navigate that they encourage fast, inattentive driving, but we do.

      • Larry Shaeffer November 22, 2017 at 8:13 am #

        thanks for your rndbt advocacy. I think the key to ped safety for US roundabouts is including vertical deflection (speed humps) just upstream of the ped crossings (or extended raised ped crossings). Lowering the approach design speed down to 10-15mph comes with near 100% yield compliance.

        • Rosa November 27, 2017 at 7:12 am #

          but then couldn’t we just build humps before the regular intersections we already have? Plus, if you have forced slowing isn’t the received wisdom that drivers then speed up as soon as they’re past it, because they hate slowing down? I thought that was the argument against having stop signs – people just go twice as fast mid-block so there’s no overall safety gain.

          I know the tiny mini-roundabout near us, some drivers just hit the gas to intimidate everyone else into stopping for it (and some stop no matter what, and most are in the middle).

    • gneiss November 17, 2017 at 1:21 pm #

      You’re quite right – design matters. In the US, the arms of the roundabouts are designed like mini-off ramps, where people can accelerate as the exit the intersection. The European designs, however, are more like 4-way stops. Sharp angles at every exit and a narrow roadway, so people are forced to slow down as they turn on and off the roundabout. This design means that driver are going slowly as they pass over the pedestrian/bike part of the structure, which helps to prevent serious injuries.

      • Sean Hayford Oleary
        Sean Hayford Oleary November 17, 2017 at 1:44 pm #

        I think the “exit ramp” angles are largely to get those really acute possible collision angles for two motor vehicles. That’s an important safety feature, by making T-bone crashes physically impossible, and forcing the vehicle to turn as it enters, further encouraging slower speeds.

        Check out this Oslo roundabout and compare to this one in Burnsville.

        Love the multimodal scene the Street View van captured in Oslo — bicyclists and motorcycle in the circle, another cyclist using the crosswalk, and some pedestrians walking down the sidewalk. But technically, the Burnsville roundabout seems much better, with narrower distance pedestrians must cross, a much tighter lane circulating (~15 ft versus 30 ft), and angles that force slower entry. But I expect that the experience crossing is better at that Norwegian one, simply because drivers are trained to respect pedestrians.

        • Walker Angell
          Walker Angell November 19, 2017 at 5:34 pm #

          I think it still comes back to bad design? Some at more of a specific micro level (allowing crossing multiple lanes without signals, etc) and some at a macro level;
          – Designs (wide lanes, wide turns & slip lanes, right-on-red) that all add up to a statement that our road system, everywhere, is designed for speed and low or no delay,
          – designs that teach law breaking (straight 12′ wide lanes + 35 MPH speed limit, stop signs where there should be yield, etc) and so result in all laws (stop before right-on-red, stop for pedestrian crossing, etc.) being considered optional and
          – designs that lack safe pedestrian and bicycle facilities that discourage walking and so result in few to no people walking and roads that not only have only cars on them but that send a message that our road system is only for cars and that any pedestrians or bicycle riders are an intrusion that don’t belong.

    • Andy Singer
      Andy Singer November 17, 2017 at 11:20 pm #

      I’m not sure if they’re “far safer and friendly to pedestrians.” I haven’t seen data to back that up. France has more roundabouts than any other European country according to one article I read and their roundabout study (cited in the FHWA guidelines) shows little or no improvement in pedestrian safety for roundabouts over normal intersections and shows they are actually more dangerous for cyclists. There’s a desire in the US to portray everything in Europe as “better” or “safer” but real studies with good methodology are hard to come by. A lot of it is just conjecture. I’ve lived in Brussels and there are PARTS of it that are pedestrian friendly (like the old/medieval parts) but there are also parts that are as horrible as any stroad interchange in the USA. If people are going to make assertions about roundabouts or any other design treatment, they need substantial empirical data from multiple studies to back it up. We ask the same thing for pharmaceuticals, climate change and lots of other things but, for some reason, we don’t ask it of street design.

    • Scott November 18, 2017 at 12:58 pm #

      I also used to cross that roundabout when I studied at the University of Oslo 20+ years ago. Drivers in Norway, at that time, were legally required to stop for pedestrians at such crossings and if they did not or hit a person walking, they would lose their license for 2+ years. So, a pedestrian only needed to step out and motorists would stop. It still wasn’t my favorite place to cross because it was multiple lanes wide and you couldn’t be 100% sure a driver saw you.

  4. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke November 17, 2017 at 9:37 am #

    That Indiana one is amazing. Imagine walking in the figure-8 interior loop for an entire day? Performance art!

    • Andy Singer
      Andy Singer November 17, 2017 at 11:11 pm #

      Dude, all the roundabout lovers should go to Carmel Indiana. It’s “Roundabout Disneyland!” Here’s a video of a street the length of Snelling with no signals. I especially like all the surface parking behind the buildings too– https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fmvDiEtf3tQ&feature=youtu.be …and, apparently, the city went so into debt for these that they lost their bond rating– https://www.ibj.com/articles/66283-carmels-bond-rating-dips-as-citys-debt-burden-rises …“It is important to remember that we are a growing city and we are investing in our local infrastructure, such as adding trails, roundabouts, better storm drainage, and high-quality water to improve the quality of life of our residents.” What a sad thing to go into debt for. Maybe I can find you a video of the double tear-drop.

      • Sean Hayford Oleary
        Sean Hayford Oleary November 17, 2017 at 11:36 pm #

        The surface parking lots are largely the “before” condition. Carmel has led the nation on a an extensive redevelopment campaign — hence the debt. The majority of that debt has done to finance ambitious downtown redevelopment projects.

        It’s a big risk and not appropriate for every city, but they have blazed trails both with street design and dense, high-quality, pedestrian-oriented redevelopment.

        • Andy Singer
          Andy Singer November 17, 2017 at 11:52 pm #

          Looks like a giant suburban stroad to me (curiously devoid of pedestrians) …with a ton of surface parking. I’d never want to see Saint Paul look like that. Carmel gets written up in all the hipster redevelopment sites (PPS, etc) but a friend who has visited there said it’s kind of a strange disneyland devoid of genuine street life similar to some of the suburban outdoor malls around the Twin cities that attempt to recreate the appearance of an old downtown but are actually surrounded by huge parking lots.

          • Sean Hayford Oleary
            Sean Hayford Oleary November 18, 2017 at 10:09 am #

            Their starting point was a sprawling, outer-ring suburb. It’s like Woodbury decided in 1995 that they were going to build an intense downtown out of nothing on a district that was previously low-intensity and very auto-oriented. There’s a lot of money involved in that, and the result is incremental. The largest and most prominent building, also called “City Center”, is a bit Disney World-esque, but also an awesome land use. Some of the other buildings — especially their concert hall — are built with really authentic, high-quality materials centered around meaningful public space.

            So is it appropriate to copy 1:1 in a place like St. Paul? Not at all. And St. Paul has a serious advantage of still having many viable older commercial districts and buildings. But if you think of a blank slate like the Ford site, I’m not sure Carmel-style redevelopment is a bad thing. And I do think many cities could look at the efficiencies Carmel has gained with roundabouts. I would much prefer a divided two-lane Snelling with roundabouts than the four-lane death road with signals and full-access uncontrolled intersections left and right.

            • Andy Singer
              Andy Singer November 19, 2017 at 11:54 pm #

              When “the efficiencies” of roundabouts are discussed in these various Carmel, Indiana TV bits, it’s 100% about moving cars/driving and traffic. (I posted this comment earlier but I think I put the wrong email address so it’s still “Pending Review”). By the time you get to the clip with the mayor (filmed from inside a car), you start to appreciate that Carmel treats roundabouts with cult-like reverence and have built over 100 of them. See– https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bwEfLvRRsgc …and this controversy video– https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKVN1xvMm8E …even Anderson Cooper– https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WaICdKez2jg I can’t speak to other moves that Carmel’s made or it’s initial situation. It gets kudos for some things from groups like Project for Public Spaces. That wasn’t the point of my article. My point was simple– until someone can show me pedestrian crash and count data before and after a roundabout conversion for a bunch of these conversions in different places that SHOWS they reduced pedestrian crashes, they can’t tell me that “Roundabouts are safer for pedestrians.” That shouldn’t be a controversial point. My other point is also simple, place a roundabout (of equal or greater capacity) over a signalized intersection and it takes up more space. That’s just a fact. If you like roundabouts and would like to see them on the entire length of Snelling Avenue, nothing I can say will dissuade you and that’s fine, but I will continue to disagree with you 100% until I see real data.

              • Sean Hayford Oleary
                Sean Hayford Oleary November 20, 2017 at 10:44 am #

                I would not object if the purpose of this article was simply to point that more research is needed, and to say that the case is not proven for pedestrians. But it doesn’t feel that way. It appears that (with equally limited data) you have concluded that they are worse and more dangerous for pedestrians. I do not believe that is proven. Given the reduced speed the roundabouts create, I think it stands to reason that crash severity would be reduced as well — but like your instinct, I agree that is unproven, and it should be studied more.

                > “it takes up more space. That’s just a fact. ”

                This is untrue when compared to a modern, higher volume signalized intersection. I believe this is the most appropriate comparison, since any improvement project will likely add those features — see the recent project at Randolph and Lexington. Turn lanes take up an enormous amount of space. This is not just theoretical. See the new roundabout planned at Nicollet and 66th:

                Nicollet-66th roundabout

                It does take slightly more of each of the corners. However, it frees up existing long turn lanes and a small portion of the SE corner. I have visualized that here, with green space freed up from being pavement and red space as new right-of-way needed:

                Nicollet-66th cost/benefit with space

                That is approximately 10,500 sq ft of pavement reduced, and 8,200 sq ft of new right-of-way required (not all of which would be pavement).

                And this is not nearly as space-saving as it could have been. Had they chosen a single-lane roundabout for this location (which would still probably have acceptable flow), that would have reduced the space needed. And if they didn’t already own the right-of-way, they would likely have kept a narrow 4′ median farther back from the roundabout, widening only as it approached the roundabout. That would have left additional developable land on the nearby parcels. In this case, since the land was already right-of-way, it made more sense to use as a planted median.

                I will double-check with staff, but I recall Richfield saying that they did a similar calculation for Portland-66th. They found that creating a new signal that would meet County standards would have more significant property impacts than the roundabout that was built.

                • Joseph Totten
                  Joseph Totten November 20, 2017 at 4:03 pm #

                  Also, can we consider the mini-roundabout, like here in Shakopee? http://www.mikeontraffic.com/case-study-of-mini-roundabout-minnesota/

                  Full planted islands are unneeded for roundabout construction, simply raised and colored concrete can effectively flow traffic. (And yes this works for semis, they have video of a full length truck doing an impressive U-Turn).

                  • Rosa November 27, 2017 at 7:15 am #

                    I think they do require plantings. They require something, judging from the damage the signs took before the plantings were in. And it took out at least one school bus early the first winter. Raised concrete doesn’t look that different from unplowed street, when it snows.

                    • Joseph Totten
                      Joseph Totten November 28, 2017 at 6:35 pm #

                      Shakopee seems to have it figured out, (see the link above). (Not the neighborhood circles, these mini ones are still meant for arterials… sorry for any confusion)

      • Andy Singer
        Andy Singer November 18, 2017 at 12:21 am #

        Oh man oh man …they love their roundabouts in Carmel but all the dialog is about cars/driving/traffic– https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bwEfLvRRsgc …and this controversy video about one of the worst stroads I’ve ever seen has some amazing quotes– https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKVN1xvMm8E …even Anderson Cooper has gotten in on the action (and again all the dialog is all about improving traffic flow, not pedestrians)– https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WaICdKez2jg Lastly, here’s the “simulation” (with smooth jazz) for the double teardrop. This is kind of what Public Works wanted to do to Snelling and University (go from an intersection to an overpass/interchange)– https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dghhVLPzwUM

  5. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary November 17, 2017 at 10:44 am #

    I really appreciate this detailed article, Andy. Although as one of those bike-ped advocates who has spoken in favor of roundabouts, I continue to disagree.

    My biggest takeaway from the studies you list is that this is a powerful indictment of transportation research — which I completely agree, has neglected to deeply examine the effects on bike or pedestrian safety and experience. However, the studies you cite do not prove that roundabouts worsen the experience for pedestrians; they just fail to address it in any rigorous way.

    One point where I particularly disagree is this:

    > Instead, you have to walk around them. This greatly increases walking distances and travel times for pedestrians. As such, roundabouts decrease pedestrian “Level of Service” and waste valuable urban space.

    Depending on what it replaces, both of these claims are wrong. Although you do walk a greater distance, you get a significant benefit of having instant right-of-way. You do not need to wait for a walk signal — at more complex, high-volume signals, that can save minutes off crossing a street.

    They also do not necessarily take up more space. Although they do take larger chunks of the corners, they do not require turn lanes — that’s a significant saver of space compared with higher-volume signals. When done at interchanges, “dumbbell” designs require narrow, cheaper-to-build bridges than SPUIs or even diamond interchanges — because those require extra width for long turn lanes.

    • Andy Singer
      Andy Singer November 17, 2017 at 10:41 pm #

      I disagree. I’m never going to have “instant right of way” at an unsignalized intersection. I have to wait for a gap in traffic to even step out and try to assert my right to cross and that takes time too, plus now I’ve walked an extra third to half of a block to reach the crossing point and will walk a third to half a block extra after I cross. …And roundabouts take up a TON more space even when compared to intersections with turn lanes. Turn lane removal (if it even happens) has to be put into a median so pedestrians dont’ get killed. I included the Dale street photo in part so folks could imagine what would have been necessary to build the proposed double roundabouts there. The city or MnDOT would have had to buy chunks or all of four properties. On the south side, the space isn’t being well utilized (or densely utilized) but, if it was, more buildings would have to be bulldozed. The roundabouts there and for the 35 Access project were proposed because MnDOT doesn’t want exit ramp backups at rush-hours that signals can cause. Roundabouts keep the traffic flowing at a constant rate and, in this situation, they’re not even slowing traffic since most of the traffic at off-ramps are turning vehicles making hard rights or left turns at lower rates of speed. Roundabouts here might actually speed traffic up, as well as creating a constant stream of traffic with no breaks for pedestrians. All of these ramps are two-lane so you’re not going to get rid of turn lanes. The DOTs are not even THINKING of pedestrians when they propose these things. It’s all about preventing ramp backups or moving more cars thru intersections.

      • Sean Hayford Oleary
        Sean Hayford Oleary November 17, 2017 at 11:30 pm #

        I think the Dale St bridge is actually a really good example of the space benefits. The Carmel Keystone interchanges are tight diamonds, where the off-ramps are almost immediately adjacent to the freeway shoulder. That is hard to do at a high-volume access when controlled by signals, because you need space for cars to queue in-between.

        On the other hand, with a single “dumbbell” roundabout, cars do not need to queue in that location. Thus, the ramps can be closer together. This adds up to very little additional space needed.

        Here is how the 126th St interchange looks overlaid on Dale at the same scale (there is a gap in the middle because 94 is wider, so I matched the retaining walls to edges as on Keystone):

        Keystone Pkwy roundabout at 94

        Here is what that impact looks like more clearly on the properties:

        Roundabout impacts

        There is an impact. But that amount of impact does not seem insurmountable. We’re talking part of a vacant lot on the NW corner and corners of the other properties. Of course there are plenty of bigger and smaller ways to to roundabouts at interchanges — maybe MnDOT had something much larger in mind. But with a design like this, that seems like a reasonable use of space.

        As for the added distance you have to walk — at Portland/66th, the crosswalk is set about 60′ away from the alignment of a back from a back-of-curb sidewalk. That can be an added burden, sure, but nowhere near a third to a half of a block each way.

        • Andy Singer
          Andy Singer November 17, 2017 at 11:45 pm #

          But at Dale, the ramp streets are also parallel freeway streets (St. Anthony and Concordia) at the top of a long embankment. So you can’t put the ramps/retaining walls where you did. They have to be where the existing streets are. So it would have to be much more stretched out and there would be 3-4 lanes on the ramp streets that merge/meet your double tear-drop …so it would be far more spatially destructive. Since you have to push the ends of the circle farther back, the crosswalks would also have to be pushed farther back …to at least a third of both blocks. On top of this, you are substituting blind double-lane slip turns with high-speed traffic for a right angle, low speed turn with a traffic light. Crossing something like this would be a nightmare. Finally, the double tear drop was not what was proposed for that interchange (probably because of the situation I’m describing) …but two separate circles, like the Arizona interchange photo I included.

          • Sean Hayford Oleary
            Sean Hayford Oleary November 18, 2017 at 10:13 am #

            I know it connects the local streets/frontage roads as well, but I don’t see why you couldn’t angle it slightly closer to 94 as it approached a new “dumbbell” roundabout. There is certainly a large cost to building a big retaining wall versus keeping the ramps/frontage roads further back and keeping the dirt slope. I guess it’s a cost and neighborhood character decision if it’s worth the added cost of a retaining wall, or if it would be better to take more adjacent property.

            Even pushed back to location of existing ramps, the Carmel-scale ones do not impact any structure. I understand their alternative may have been bigger. I am only saying there are designs in use that have minimal property impacts. Just because I like roundabouts does not mean I like every single design. I also hate the 694/Rice design, which seems like an extreme waste of public resources (building 3 bridges instead of 1).

    • Scott November 18, 2017 at 1:12 pm #

      What about the point regarding people with vision impairments, people in wheelchairs, the elderly, or children? I’m “legally blind” and am convinced I would never be able to cross one of things safely on my own.

      • Sean Hayford Oleary
        Sean Hayford Oleary November 19, 2017 at 2:04 pm #

        I think this is a weak point for roundabouts, although again I think it is much less of an issue for single-lane roundabouts — after the first car has stopped, that leg is safe to cross.

        I understand the lack of clear indication you get, but how do you negotiate turning movements at signals? At almost every signal, right turns are permitted on green at the same time as the walk signal is activated; at many signals in Minneapolis, conflicting left turns are also allowed. I assume to some extent you must rely on drivers obeying the law and controlling their movements.

        And particularly curious how you negotiate porkchops — as I noted in another part of this thread, they seem worse than roundabouts, since there is often no need for drivers to slow or stop, and they create really awkward 45° angles that I would assume could be hard to find your way.

  6. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary November 17, 2017 at 10:49 am #

    One other challenge I think we face for roundabout research — at least in Minnesota — is that more traditional cities have been so reluctant to try them. The Portland roundabout in Richfield is a very low-pedestrian area. It has an apartment building on one corner, but gas stations on two corners, and a large city park on the fourth corner. Same story for St. Louis Park’s implementation on Louisiana. Bloomington’s massive 5-roundabout ring around 169/494 is completely devoid of walkable destinations.

    That is part of why I am very excited about the two new roundabouts coming to downtown Richfield, at Nicollet and Lyndale. The Lyndale roundabout has hundreds of housing units, traditional mixed-use on two corners, and a relatively walkable suburban single-use on a third corner.

    It should be one of the area’s first truly urban roundabouts.

    66th and Lyndale roundabout

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller November 17, 2017 at 11:47 am #

      The Lyndale (and also Nicollet) are also pretty darn pedestrian-hostile as is too. It shouldn’t be hard to do better.

      • Sean Hayford Oleary
        Sean Hayford Oleary November 17, 2017 at 12:03 pm #

        I agree. It is easier to justify when the existing condition is pretty bad — especially at Lyndale, where the skew of the street makes for especially enormous curb radii.

    • Crosswalks November 19, 2017 at 10:37 am #

      Hey Sean,

      I like this roundabout because the crosswalk is visible and separate. Drivers can concentrate on one thing at a time.

      No one is talking about it here, but I’m guessing crosswalk visibility is a key to the pedestrian experience at intersections. For example, try crossing the pork chop at 36th and Richfield road: goo.gl/C4JoE9. There are tons of pedestrians, but 95% of cars won’t stop for pedestrians at the pork chop crosswalk. I believe cars can see the crossing pedestrian but refuse to stop because the crosswalk is hidden. Either it’s hidden by a line of cars, or the driver sees it too late.

      • Sean Hayford Oleary
        Sean Hayford Oleary November 19, 2017 at 1:59 pm #

        I agree. I think “good” pork chop design (I don’t really like them at all, but best-possible) is to have the crosswalk at least one car length behind the vehicular yield point. This is similar to the dynamic of entering a roundabout — first react to the crosswalk, then go past it and negotiate yielding with vehicles. I assume to keep costs down, Minneapolis did not retrofit this porkchop fully, and instead did that painted area just to the north of it. As a result, the crosswalk is closer to the yield point than it might have been otherwise.

        Other porkchops also have a disadvantage over roundabouts when they use acceleration lanes. Bloomington does this frequently — in this case, it is designed so that vehicles do not need to stop or slow significantly. They should charge forward at full speed, get up to speed of traffic, and merge in. This takes a concept from freeways and applies it (dangerously IMO) to local streets shared with people walking and biking.

        A porkchop with a signal is the worst of both worlds: you have to cross an uncontrolled flow of traffic and walk out of your way, but you also have to wait for a long, cumbersome signal while standing in the middle of the street.

  7. Evan Roberts
    Evan November 17, 2017 at 12:53 pm #

    I profoundly disagree with this post. It’s conflating driver behavior (which can change over time), and poor roundabout design (overly large for the traffic volumes) with inherent features of roundabouts.

    The roundabout at Minnehaha and Godfrey parkways is a great example of how roundabouts don’t have to be too large. A roundabout of that size can easily handle 15,000 cars/day volume.

    • Joseph Totten
      Joseph Totten November 17, 2017 at 1:59 pm #

      Actually the U of M has studied the Godfrey-Minnehaha location a few times. I was at the MN Transportation Conference in 2015 and the presenter noted that yielding and delay at the U of M traffic circle was better for pedestrians when it was a roundabout instead of a signal or stop sign, but that the U didn’t choose the option (then indicated that since the studies were done during summer they may have feared gridlock during classes). Godfrey-Minnehaha was another roundabout they used to show how it can be pedestrian and cyclist friendly, and I have almost never been delayed more than a few seconds crossing there.

      • Joseph Totten
        Joseph Totten November 17, 2017 at 1:59 pm #

        https://conservancy.umn.edu/bitstream/handle/11299/159158/CTS13-27.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

        https://conservancy.umn.edu/bitstream/handle/11299/138018/MnDOT2012-28.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

        The reports don’t have quite the same info as the presentation, but still is a good baseline.

      • Sean Hayford Oleary
        Sean Hayford Oleary November 17, 2017 at 5:08 pm #

        Thanks for that info, Joe! I have had many good experiences at the Godfrey roundabout, and am unsurprised that fared well when studied.

        Do you know if Edina has done any investigation of pedestrian safety or experience on the 70th St roundabouts (or the new one on Hazelton)? Although much of that development isn’t traditionally urban in design, it’s the sort of tight design that might work well in a lot of older neighborhoods.

        • Joseph Totten
          Joseph Totten November 20, 2017 at 1:40 pm #

          We did an internal/informal study of it during our consideration on crossing flags and other issues (I think the Strib picked up a distracted driving tidbit that also came out of this). Really we had pretty good yielding rates, but it was also with only me crossing, and I established myself strongly while crossing.

          Seen the new one on Valley View Road and Valley Lane? Nine Mile Creek Trail goes through it, and it has RRFBs all the way around (or at least it was planned to be).

          • Sean Hayford Oleary
            Sean Hayford Oleary November 20, 2017 at 2:09 pm #

            I’ll have to go check it out! Most recent Edina roundabout I have encountered is the one at Valley View and Braemar — which is nice enough, but super low volume. Since those RRFBs are planned in Richfield, I’m eager to see how well they work.

          • Sean Hayford Oleary
            Sean Hayford Oleary November 20, 2017 at 2:11 pm #

            Interesting that for the existing Valley View/Tracy bike lane, NB traffic is directed to a ramp to cross using the crosswalk, while SB has sharrows. I suppose maybe they thought merging onto the trail would be awkward.

            • Joseph Totten
              Joseph Totten November 20, 2017 at 3:56 pm #

              Both have options, there’s just a car over the NB sharrow. SB was more constrained so I think we encouraged sidewalk/trail riding starting at the intersection before… not entirely sure though.

    • Walker Angell
      Walker Angell November 17, 2017 at 9:37 pm #

      Evan, driver behavior is mostly influenced by road design. There is, that I have seen, very little difference in driver behavior between Dutch and US drivers. There is dramatic difference in road designs. Put a Dutch driver on US roads and they drive like US drivers. Put US drivers on Dutch roads and they, eventually, drive like Dutch.

      US road designs encourage the hurry up don’t watch out for others I’m the king of the road aggressive driving that we see. Dutch (and others) encourages a much different behavior.

      • Evan Roberts
        Evan November 19, 2017 at 9:30 pm #

        Walker, I think we largely agree. The driver behavior at the Minnehaha roundabout is better because the lanes are narrow, and it’s a tight radius. The examples Andy Singer has shown here are generally way overbuilt, retain a forgiving geometry for speed, and could do with narrower lanes.

  8. Duwayne November 17, 2017 at 3:25 pm #

    I instantly thought of Hwy 22 and Madison Ave in Mankato. I’d rather wait at a signalized intersection than risk my life crossing at that dangerous roundabout. Thanks MNDoT!

    • Sean Hayford Oleary
      Sean Hayford Oleary November 17, 2017 at 5:03 pm #

      That is one stroady roundabout, with free rights in addition to the two-lane roundabout on every corner?! But compared to the before condition — two busy highways, at least on 45 mph, waiting on that porkchop for a long signal — I still prefer it.

      For high-speed suburban roundabouts where the intent is to remain high-speed and low-intensity land use, I kind of prefer fully grade-separating the pedestrians. See the example on Bailey Road and Radio Dr in Woodbury. Trails on all sides go through trail underpasses. Because everything is so spread-out, the ramp down and up is very subtle. The roundabout itself has no on-grade pedestrians crossings and is for only vehicles (including vehicular cyclists). Obviously there is an expense to doing all this, but I think it can be worthwhile for situations like this one.

      I do not think it would be appropriate for many locations in the inner-metro. The only one that comes to mind is Cedar Ave and Lake Nokomis Pkwy — a grade-separated trail (up, rather than down) could complement a vehicle-only roundabout.

  9. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell November 17, 2017 at 5:45 pm #

    Good article Andy. Ramsey County are planning roundabouts for the Rice & 694 junction that will be quite poor for people walking and riding bicycles. I’m hoping to get a post up on this project sometime in the coming weeks. More: http://www.sehinc.com/online/rice694

    I am actually a quite big fan of roundabouts, but only when they are designed and used properly. They are ubiquitous throughout The Netherlands, Denmark and elsewhere that I travel frequently. However, they would never use them in some of the ways the we are in the US. Firstly, grade level crossings are usually limited to small single-lane somewhat low volume roundabouts. When there is a crossing the exit radius will be sharp enough to force drivers to slow a considerable bit. The crossing will always be at least one full car or small truck length from the roundabout. This so that vehicles need not fear getting rear-ended when the stop for people crossing. The roundabouts will also have a reverse camber that makes drivers feel like they are going faster than they are which has helped considerably.

    The crossings will very often be only one lane at a time and this lane will be quite narrow, again to slow drivers and make sure that they are paying attention. Crossing two lanes (one each direction) at once is only on older roundabouts or those with extremely low speeds and volumes. Crossings will always have right-of-way indicated by sharks teeth so drivers and others know quite clearly who has right-of-way.

    If crossings cannot be made fully safe as above then bikeways will be grade separated. If grade separation is not an option then they will not use roundabouts and use signalized intersections instead.

    There’s a lot more in the CROW manuals about this.

    I’ve bicycled by hundreds (probably thousands) of roundabouts in northern Europe and felt quite safe.

    • Andy Singer
      Andy Singer November 17, 2017 at 10:53 pm #

      I think Dutch and some European roundabouts can be better because they are smaller with (as you say) sharper angles. My guess is that the Dutch don’t need to design these things to accommodate tractor-trailer trucks the way the US does …or the Dutch have trucks and buses that can make tighter turns. There is no question that the only roundabouts with a chance of being safe/comfortable for bike/ped are single lane roundabouts and where there is just one approach lane (not a split) …but this isn’t the type of roundabout that’s being built in the USA, largely because FHWA and state standards are designed for enormous vehicles or higher speeds. That said, your arguments are emotional or experiential and while that’s important I think having actual analytical, empirical data is more important. According to one article I read, France has the most roundabouts in Europe but their study found little or no improvement for pedestrians over normal intersections and found they were more dangerous for cyclists. Maybe they’re designed different than Dutch roundabouts? …But I’d like to see a lot more data and less conjecture and opinion.

      • Walker Angell
        Walker Angell November 18, 2017 at 11:41 am #

        France largely had traffic circles which function quite different from roundabouts. They have recently been converting many of these to roundabouts which has caused some considerable consternation among drivers. This has been particularly problematic where drivers were accustomed to give-way-to-the-right which would effectively allow cars entering a traffic circle to have priority over those already in it — just the opposite of roundabout function.

        We were in southern France for a bit this fall and this was quite apparent at several that were just recently converted. I think it’s actually worse than here because the physical change is minor (usually just the addition of a deflector at entry and new signs) so many people expect drivers in the now roundabout to yield to them as they did prior to conversion.

        These are also not really designed to normal roundabout specs such as this one recently converted (they still have the white/orange k-rails up) and is where we experienced the most problems:

        https://www.google.com/maps/@43.2655063,6.6255387,104m/data=!3m1!1e3

        French bike & ped infra is generally quite poor though. It is getting better, but very slowly. At the roundabout above you can see a new bikeway that has been added along the north side of the main road. Not anywhere close to CROW standards but much better than in the past.

      • Walker Angell
        Walker Angell November 18, 2017 at 11:51 am #

        Europe does limit where larger semi trucks can go much more than the US does. So, many of their roundabouts may indeed be able to be designed for occasional large trucks rather than more routine truck traffic. That said, many (all?) roundabouts that are quite safe for bicycle riders do handle routine truck traffic. Most roundabouts have a raised and very sloped truck apron (sometimes made of rounded pavers to make them even less enticing) just inside the roundabout that allow trucks of all sizes to get through but also forces them to slow considerably. Exits will sometimes have a similar truck apron in the apex. These, especially the paver variety, are not conducive to getting a car through at high speed.

        Example: https://www.google.com/maps/@53.00805,6.5846402,3a,75y,90t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sRnEoCk8JAbwCTNN2IfnB7A!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

        Agree on data, though emotional and experiential are important because that is largely what determines modal share. If people feel safe (and are safe) then they are much more likely to ride a bicycle instead of drive a car. If people don’t feel safe then they will not walk or ride. Like others, I feel very safe on Dutch bikeways and use a bicycle often. I feel somewhat safe on bikeways in Shoreview and so use these often. I feel much less safe on Ramsey County roads that are between our house and local restaurants and grocery so, even though it is a very short distance, am much less likely to ride my bicycle.

        As to data: The US has less than 1% modal share cycling because we make it feel and actually be dangerous. Netherlands is about 40% official modal share but in reality much higher because nearly 100% will ride a bicycle for all trips of less than 3-5 miles (or more).

        Then there are overall fatality rates:

        Dutch traffic engineering largely works (though they do stupid stuff too). It encourages people to walk or ride bicycles and is safe for them and this is reflected in statistics which indicate The Netherlands is the safest place in the world for people walking or riding bicycles. Their road system is 7th safest in the world for people in motor vehicles and is 3 times safer than US roads.

        Again though, if Dutch engineers cannot build a roundabout that is safe and feels safe for people walking or riding bicycles then they will, usually, not build a roundabout and build an intersection or other type of junction instead.

        BTW, I think you and I are saying the same thing.

        • Monte Castleman
          Monte Castleman November 18, 2017 at 1:05 pm #

          I think there’s a lot more to the modal share than feeling safe. I felt safe riding my bicycle around Bloomington on the sidewalks (even if on the street would have been statistically safer even before the road diets began), but dumped bicycling for transportation for good the minute I could drive. Why should I spend all that time and effort and be uncomfortable (unless it was one of the few nice days of the year when I could just hop in a heated and air conditioned car with a roof.

          That’s not to say building protected bicycle trails is a bad idea here but there’s just too many climatic and cultural differences to expect to get the same result if as the Netherlands.

          • Walker Angell
            Walker Angell November 19, 2017 at 9:05 am #

            Agree. And yes, there is more. Each person is different and have different interests and tolerances. What is safe enough for Bill or Julie may not be safe enough for you and I and what is good enough for you and I likely not good enough for our neighbors across the street. Producing an environment like The Netherlands where a bicycle is the first choice for transportation for most people takes a number of things. It’s kind of like a pyramid:

            1 Base: Safe, Comfortable and Convenient Bikeways. Most people, like well over 90%, will not ride nor allow their children to on roads they feel unsafe on. So safety is the start for most people. Comfort and Convenience play critical roles as well. Even the sidewalks you and I rode on are quite poor substitutes. There is no bikeway in the Twin Cities, Portland, or NYC that I’ve found is nearly as safe, comfortable and convenient as those in The Netherlands. However, the SUPs in Shoreview, as poor as they are, have resulted in nearly a 20% modal share of folks riding to Chippewa Middle School and increasing numbers riding to dinner, grocery, etc. OTOH, I know of two people who stopped riding after disability ‘improvements’ put beg button bollards in the middle of the bikeways and made people feel less safe than before—small details can matter.

            2: Bikes. Bikes themselves matter. A Dutch city bike is much easier and comfortable to ride than a hybrid, road, or cruiser. http://localmile.org/city-bikes/

            3. Mindshare. Many Americans think “Bike = Recreation, Transportation = Car”. I remember one family telling me that they’d planned to go out for a bike ride and then after they got home driving for some Ice Cream. Their young daughter prodded them on the way back to just stop in the Ice Cream place they’d planned to go that she saw just a block away. There’s also the need for people to fully understand the link between moderate daily activity, their health, and the costs of healthcare in the US (coming soon: “Are Traffic Engineers Responsible For Our Healthcare Mess?”).

            4. Safety and Social Acceptance In Numbers. The more normal people there are riding the safer it is and the more that people will see that riding a bicycle doesn’t require lycra, sweat, and an anti-social chip on the shoulder.

            These don’t have to necessarily happen in order but in kind of an iterative process. A little bit of safety is enough for some people while others may require a higher bit of safety and comfort (facilities and bike). Some won’t ride until they see others doing it and view it as more socially acceptable than it is today.

            This even in The Netherlands. There has been a recent trend by traffic engineers there to build lessor quality bikeways. For instance, painted bike lanes or shared bicycle streets where 10 years ago they would have built protected bikeways. The result is that people say they don’t feel as safe and so they ride less. The medical community in The Netherlands has called for rolling these changes back, partially out of concern of more crashes but mostly out of concern that if people start driving as much they’ll “become as fat and unhealthy as Americans”.

          • Adam Miller
            Adam Miller November 20, 2017 at 10:20 am #

            Biking for transportation is almost never frustrating. Driving when everyone else is also driving (i.e., rush hour, peak shopping times, etc.), almost always is. Plus biking for transportation works a bit of exercise into your day without having to go to the gym. I dropped the bike for transportation after college (technically, after I got a car in college), but I went back because for most trips because it’s actually way better.

            Temperature matters very little. If it’s warm, you dress for warm weather. If it’s cold, you dress for cold weather. Most of us are already doing this because we’re planning to get out of the car at some point.

            The challenge to being the Netherlands isn’t weather (it’s rainier there than here and rain is a much bigger challenge than temperature). It’s distance.

            We’ve built our stuff much farther apart on the assumption that everyone will just drive.

  10. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell November 17, 2017 at 6:13 pm #

    BTW, here is a good article a friend wrote about roundabouts in The Netherlands: http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2014/05/the-best-roundabout-design-for-cyclists.html

    He and I don’t agree on everything but I’d often lean towards his thinking rather than mine.

    • Andy Singer
      Andy Singer November 17, 2017 at 11:04 pm #

      Again, I want to see the methodology by which they obtained their data results. I’ll have to read the piece in more detail …but some things jump out at me, like the 11% safer figure are comparing a roundabout to “An uncontrolled junction” …which sounds like a 4-way stop (without stop signs) as opposed to a signalized intersection. I really want to see before/after count and crash data for conversions. I’d love to read that 1993 study everyone points to but I can’t find it.

      • Walker Angell
        Walker Angell November 18, 2017 at 1:06 pm #

        I believe David’s data is simply looking at the number of bicycle crashes (fatalities and serious injuries are quite rare*) reported for each junction. Netherlands do a good job, relative to the US, of publishing this data for public use.

        * There are about 180 bicycle riders killed each year in The Netherlands. A very significant number of these, about 60% IIRC, are people over 72 years old with about half of these coincidentally having a heart attack while riding. So, it’s important to look deeper in to statistics. If you remove people over 72 from all countries stats then The Netherlands looks even better comparatively.

        • Andy Singer
          Andy Singer November 19, 2017 at 10:23 pm #

          I’m not debating that the Netherlands is bicycle paradise …and they may be (and probably are) much better at publishing data but the exact data that we need to solve this debate is before/after pedestrian crash stats (and counts) when traditional signalized intersections are converted to roundabouts. I haven’t seen that data (from the US or the Netherlands). If you find it, let me know. The MnDOT study is the closest thing I’ve found and it’s fairly useless (for solving the debate).

  11. SHELDON GITIS November 17, 2017 at 10:42 pm #

    I’m disappointed Andy, in his lengthy report, failed to mention the Rice-694 interchange project. The asinine concrete project, the first of its kind along the 494-694 beltway, replaces 4 sets of traffic signals with 3 roundabouts. It’s like the horrific “Double off-ramp” design proposed for Dale and 94, only worse. For those not familiar with Rice and 694, image a single mega-roundabout, bordered by a couple secondary roundabouts, channeling all the traffic, in all 4 directions, onto, off of, and over 494 at Minnetonka Blvd. Try walking or biking across that motherfucker during rush hour. And it’s already been state-approved and funded.

    http://www.sehinc.com/online/rice694

    HOOYAH! The Brainpower State.

    • Andy Singer
      Andy Singer November 17, 2017 at 10:56 pm #

      I purposely didn’t put up photos of a lot of the worst roundabouts in the state (or nationally) but, for your viewing pleasure– https://i.ytimg.com/vi/8dmxfVqtHcg/maxresdefault.jpg 🙂

    • Walker Angell
      Walker Angell November 19, 2017 at 9:29 am #

      Sheldon, agree. A few of us have been trying to put some pressure on Blake Huffman and Beth Malmburg to at least have Toole weigh in on some better ideas.

      This is also a popular route for TCBC rides and I can’t imagine them being able to successfully negotiate through there with 30 or 40 riders. Even at low traffic volume times much less the early evenings that many of the rides currently go through there. As one TCBC person told me “this is causing a vehicular cycling crisis of conscience”.

  12. Greg Martin November 19, 2017 at 11:39 am #

    There’re a number of larger roundabouts in Washington, DC with the inside of the circle serving as park space. That interior park space is accessible via signalized crossings in some cases. I doubt those roundabouts are less safe for pedestrians than more traditional intersections or are necessarily slower to cross for pedestrians because of the design.

    https://www.google.com/maps/@38.9096253,-77.0295292,187m/data=!3m1!1e3

    https://www.google.com/maps/@38.9096137,-77.0433142,175m/data=!3m1!1e3

    • Andy Singer
      Andy Singer November 19, 2017 at 10:06 pm #

      Columbus Circle in New York City does this as well. I think all of these were legacy traffic circles of an old style that their respective public works departments found dangerous because people were cutting thru the middle to try to reach their destinations or because the centers were actually old public parks (in at least one of the DC circles). If there’s one or more traffic signal in the circle (as there is in these cases) then it’s not really a “roundabout” of the type I’m speaking of in this article. That said, I have to see the data and I haven’t seen any. We cannot say something is “more safe” or “less safe” without solid data. That’s the point of my column.

      • Adam Miller
        Adam Miller November 20, 2017 at 10:21 am #

        I’m not aware of any circles in DC that act as roundabouts. Nor would I cite them as examples of things that are well designed.

  13. Paul November 20, 2017 at 2:22 pm #

    Your pictures are mostly of highways that I can’t imagine many people would want to get near without an internal combustion engine. You mentioned that you didn’t mean to include little residential roundabouts, but there are plenty of examples in between that are ripe for conversion to roundabouts IMHO. For example, the multi-armed beast near the U at Franklin and East River Parkway, and some of the diagonal intersections along Minnehaha Ave in Minneapolis.

    • Andy Singer
      Andy Singer November 20, 2017 at 2:58 pm #

      Show me that roundabouts in these locations are going to be safer for pedestrians than what’s out there (using before/after conversion studies like I describe) and I might be supportive. My complaint is there is no good data.

    • Rosa November 25, 2017 at 9:54 pm #

      how on earth would you put a roundabout there? There’s not really room for what is there, right now.

      Though, as a cyclist who often needs to turn left headed east at that intersection, it might actually be better for me. I’m not sure about pedestrians having to deal with a roundabout there, though.

      • Adam Miller
        Adam Miller November 28, 2017 at 10:14 am #

        On the east side of the Franklin Ave bridge? Almost looks like the existing paved area might be enough for a roundabout.

        • Sean Hayford Oleary
          Sean Hayford Oleary November 28, 2017 at 12:59 pm #

          Agreed — it is pretty big. The north/northwest corner parking lot might be nicked, but I don’t think it would be that dramatic.

          I recall somebody telling me that a roundabout was considered here prior to the reconfigured signal being installed, but that at least one agency involved (County, City, Park Board) was uncomfortable with a complex roundabout here due to the trail. That is unverified — anyone know about this?

  14. DB November 20, 2017 at 3:48 pm #

    Here’s a video on roundabouts in the Netherlands: https://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2015/10/13/explaining-the-dutch-roundabout-abroad/

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