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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.