Meet a Roundabout: Wentworth Ave

This is “Meet a Roundabout,” a new series of posts about roundabouts in the Twin Cities area that are improving traffic efficiency and safety. Posts include pictures and video of the roundabout and a history of how they came to be. This is the first post in the series.

On a recent beautiful Wednesday night, as the sun was setting with an orange glow across the horizon, I was driving my friend to his soccer match in West St. Paul, just off of Wentworth Ave. To drive to the indoor athletic field, we rolled through two of three of Wentworth Ave’s roundabouts. Two form an partial “dumbbell” interchange with U.S. Highway 52 (two of four highway ramps are split to the north off of Thompson Ave) and the third is at the intersection of Wentworth Ave E and Oakdale Ave. The three roundabouts at three succeeding intersections along Wentworth is likely one of the closest spacing of roundabouts in the entire state of Minnesota.

Wentworth Ave In Google Earth From April 28 2018

Google Earth view of the Wentworth Ave roundabouts with a satellite picture from April 28, 2018.

Watching traffic for about ten minutes while filming and taking pictures, I noticed that drivers approaching the roundabout were a mix of assertive, hesitant, and apprehensive. Some drivers looked for oncoming traffic, saw none, and drove through at maybe more than the posted recommendation of 20 mph. Some drivers reacted to the yield sign as a stop sign, and did a slow California roll as they took more time to check for oncoming traffic. On the apprehensive side, I saw one driver come to a complete, hard stop and look in both directions and wait ten seconds before going through the roundabout. It can be difficult for driver education when there are so few roundabouts in Minnesota.

Wentworth Oakdale Roundabout With View From Pedestrian Crossing

Pedestrian view from the western-most roundabout at Wentworth and Oakdale avenues. Photo: Author

Before construction of the new roundabout in 2017, the intersection of Wentworth Avenue (County Road 8) and Oakdale Avenue (County Road 73) was a four-way stop sign. According to safety reviews by Dakota County, in 2014 the intersection was experiencing crashes at three times the statewide average. According to the County, “the majority of crashes have been right angle crashes and a roundabout will best address this type of crash.” With a $930,000 federal grant and a smaller amount of local funds, Dakota County finished the new roundabout in September 2017. A “SimTraffic™ model” was used to evaluate the intersection’s traffic loads and turn patterns.

According to the county pamphlet, “all about Roundabouts,” roundabouts decrease fatal crashes by 89%, injury crashes by 76%, and all crashes overall by 35% compared to other intersection types. “Roundabouts are safer than other intersections because severe head-on and left-turn crashes do not occur. Other safety benefits include slower speeds and the fact that drivers only look in one direction to see oncoming traffic.”

Dakota County Pamphlet About Roundabouts

I reached out to several staff at Dakota County regarding crash data post-roundabout, and was unable to acquire any. I did learn that approximately 10% of Dakota County intersections are signalized (traffic lights), and 47% of fatal and serious injury crashes occur at signalized intersections. “Crashes at signals are typically more severe.”

Dakota County Signaled And Unsignaled Crash Rates Chart

Graphic chart: Dakota County

Are you a local resident of West St. Paul or a frequent visitor? Have you circled around a roundabout over and over just for fun? What do you think we can do better to reduce crashes, especially ones causing personal injury? Share your insights and thoughts in the comments.

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16 Responses to Meet a Roundabout: Wentworth Ave

  1. sheldon mains June 11, 2019 at 12:29 pm #

    I find roundabouts scary and unsafe for people who are on bikes or walking. With the tendency for Minnesota drivers to not yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, it is difficult to cross. Drivers only look to the left–never see the pedestrian on the right. For bikes, it is never clear where I should ride. I just take the appropriate lane– which is legal but which gets really nasty responses from drivers (and drivers approaching the round a bout tend to ignore a bike in the roundabout.

    These problems are even true for roundabouts that have been in use for years– where most of the drivers should have learned how to use them. At Minnehaha Avenue and Minnehaha Parkway in Minneapolis, less than 50 percent of the drivers yield at the crosswalks.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller June 11, 2019 at 1:06 pm #

      Hm. While true that not every driver yields at the Minnehaha roundabout, I’m skeptical it’s not higher than 50%. Granted, I’ve got really low expectations for drivers to yield, but I’ve always been impressed with drivers there.

      Regarding pedestrian and bike safety, the third “myth” in that image says there are statistically fewer ped and bike crashes at roundabouts, although it’s not clear from what’s written whether that’s true where there isn’t a refuge median.

    • Conrad Zbikowski
      Conrad Zbikowski June 11, 2019 at 10:31 pm #

      Thank you for the suggestion of other roundabouts to feature as part of this series! If you have more information or ideas, please email me at conrad.zbi@gmail.com.

    • Andrew Evans June 12, 2019 at 9:47 am #

      I drive around the Minnehaha roundabout on the way to work, it’s a terrible design. Either put the crosswalks at the entrance of the roundabout like they normally would be for a street, or put them back further. Where they are now it’s really hard to go around, look for oblivious drivers, and then transition to looking for pedestrians, or worse faster moving bikes.

      I’d also argue that some of the drivers not stopping for pedestrians never see them, or see them too late to stop safely.

      It’s a terrible intersection and area.

      • Adam Miller
        Adam Miller June 12, 2019 at 9:53 am #

        The trails are super heavily used and I’ve never seen nor heard of a crash. Seems like it’s working okay.

        • Mark June 12, 2019 at 1:32 pm #

          Just because something is working doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.

          • Adam Miller
            Adam Miller June 12, 2019 at 2:51 pm #

            Making it less stressful (i.e., faster) for drivers doesn’t sound like an improvement to me.

            • Mark June 12, 2019 at 8:58 pm #

              At what point did I say improvements should not benefit pedestrians and cyclists?

              • Andrew Evans June 20, 2019 at 12:01 pm #

                Mark that’s just it. Any improvement making it easier for drivers to see pedestrians will help make things easier for everyone using that intersection.

                I really worry about a biker heading west across the southern crosswalk area, and a car heading west taking a left go to south. Going around to make that left there are some bushes and signs that get in the way of seeing a biker (more worried about them since they go faster than a pedestrian), and given the setback of the crosswalk the driver not only has to pay attention to other traffic entering the roundabout, but then shift attention to check for anyone crossing. Moving the crosswalks either back farther, or towards the roundabout would greatly increase visibility and the chances of someone getting hit – or the chances of someone rear ending a car stopped for bike or pedestrian crossing.

                It’s not about speeding traffic up, it’s about increasing visibility and protection for those not in cars. I am surprised that more people don’t get hit on the river road system, but generally pedestrians and bikers know to make eye contact with cars and wait, and cars generally do the best we can to look out for anyone crossing. Although there are many areas of improvement that could make things a little easier on everyone.

  2. Ken Jopp June 11, 2019 at 2:43 pm #

    https://www.co.washington.mn.us/DocumentCenter/View/14560/Layout?bidId=

    This project in Washington County (Hadley Interchange [County Highway 35 and TH 36]), by Fleet Farm, includes three roundabouts (green circles). The plan looks confusing. Any comments from the traffic experts on this site as to whether this is a good plan, or roundabout abuse?

    • Sean Hayford Oleary
      Sean Hayford Oleary June 11, 2019 at 3:06 pm #

      This has some similar characteristics to the 169 and 494 interchange in Bloomington, or even the TH 7 and Louisiana Ave interchange in St. Louis Park.

      Spacing signals close together like this — where a frontage road is close to ramps — is a real problem, since there isn’t enough space to stack cars on red lights. In the past, that has meant diverting roads way out of their way, creating dead-ends, or other really disruptive solutions. This allows roads to stay in a relatively direct arrangement, but with no red lights, queuing issues are unlikely.

      As a user, I think sometimes the multi-lane setup (including Louisiana) can be a bit confusing, if still effective. Since these are all single-lane roundabouts, I think it should be easy to navigate.

      My only complaint with this design is how much space the folded ramps take up. I strongly prefer roundabout interchanges be done as a tight diamond, taking up minimal space outside the freeway footprint.

    • Andrew Evans June 20, 2019 at 11:54 am #

      Ken, multiple roundabouts like that are par for the course on similar types of intersections and uses in France. Sure, they are a little confusing at first, and seem out of place, but they generally do work. Proper signage is a must though, so people don’t get turned around and take the wrong exit.

  3. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary June 11, 2019 at 2:56 pm #

    Conrad, this is terrific! Hope you can profile downtown Richfield’s two new roundabouts later this summer (when final landscaping and striping is in) — 66th at Lyndale and Nicollet.

    The Lyndale one in particular has been a huge improvement for pedestrians over the bulky, slow old signal. It takes less time to cross, and east-west traffic has to cross only one lane at a time. Looking forward to new Richfield roundabouts on Lyndale at 67th, 68th, and 70th this fall.

    • Conrad Zbikowski
      Conrad Zbikowski June 11, 2019 at 10:31 pm #

      Thank you for the suggestion of other roundabouts to feature as part of this series! If you have more information or ideas, please email me at conrad.zbi@gmail.com.

  4. Andrew Evans June 12, 2019 at 9:51 am #

    There needs to be a “please signal at the roundabout” sign posted at all roundabouts here. It makes live so much easier for everyone, and more efficient, when you know what a driver is planning to do.

    I’m indifferent to drivers stopping, yielding, or going straight through. As long as they are doing what is safe and best for them. The worst thing is for someone to be in a rush/panic, and create an accident. Personally if no one is coming and no one is crossing, I don’t really slow down any more than what would be called for to go around the corner.

  5. Melody June 12, 2019 at 11:29 pm #

    I never had a problem with the intersection of Wentworth & Oakdale until they put in the roundabout. I can’t count how many times now people have ran the yield signs on me. Once I was the passenger and almost got hit at 30 miles per hour. They should of put cops there to pull the stupid people over. Now there should be cops there for the people who run the yield sign.

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