Meet a Roundabout: U.S. 61 in Forest Lake

“Meet a Roundabout” is 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 it came to be. This is the third post in the series.

Forest Lake Roundabout Satellite Map

On Saturday, I drove my father to have lunch in Stillwater, then up to William O’Brien State Park near Marine on St. Croix. On our drive back to the northern suburbs of Minneapolis, we drove through a new set of two roundabouts. The northern one includes a pedestrian bridge from one side of U.S. Highway 61 to the other, giving pedestrians going to Forest Lake High School or Middle School a safer journey at a busy intersection.

Fun fact: As you can see on the satellite map, both schools feature large arrays of solar panels.

In 2016, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) spent $10.1 million to replace two sets of signalized intersections that together form the intersection of U.S. Highway 61 and State Highway 97 in Forest Lake. The project was slated to be completed before school began again in fall 2016.

The diameter of the northern roundabout, which has two lanes, is about 180 feet. The diameter of the southern roundabout, which also has two lanes, is about 177 feet. The width of each lane in each roundabout is about 15 feet. (People from the East Coast, especially, may be familiar with the term “rotary,” which is a larger, faster-moving version of a roundabout typically with higher entrance speeds.)

Forest Lake Roundabout Timelapse Of Traffic

Timelapse of traffic at the northern roundabout at U.S. Highway 61 and State Highway 97. Video: Author

Adding a roundabout to this high-traffic route has increased traffic safety. On August 20, 2019, a rollover crash resulted when a semi truck likely took the roundabout at too high  a speed. Notably, no injuries occurred. The suggested speed for the area is 15 miles per hour. In my time at the roundabout, I saw a near-crash when a car almost failed to yield to another car already making its turn through the roundabout. If a crash did occur, however, it would be a 20 mph fender-bender instead of a 60 mph red-light run.

Forest Lake Roundabout 15 Miles Per Hour

The suggested speed for the roundabout is 15 mph. Photo: Author

My experience as a pedestrian was generally positive, but it is still a car-dominated space. It helps to have the ADA-accessible ramp for students and other pedestrians crossing U.S. Highway 61, but it would be really nice if the vehicles dipped down and the pedestrians didn’t have a ramp at all.

Forest Lake Roundabout Pedestrian Bridge Ramp

To the left is a pedestrian path to nowhere. Photo: Author

What do you think about this MnDOT roundabout? What would your perfect intersection look like? Share your aspirations and your drawings in the comments.

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5 Responses to Meet a Roundabout: U.S. 61 in Forest Lake

  1. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke September 16, 2019 at 9:54 am #

    Your post nicely illustrates the pros and cons of this kind of investment. Safer for cars on these suburban arterials, but it remains a walkability hellscape.

  2. Scott September 16, 2019 at 10:30 am #

    Meh. More than $10 million for the round-abouts + how much for the pedestrian bridge? Glad there have been safety improvements, but the amount of money spent on infrastructure that promotes driving is staggering.

  3. Mark September 16, 2019 at 10:50 am #

    It’s unfortunate the author didn’t go to the roundabout in downtown Forest Lake as it’s a lot smaller and more pedestrian friendly.

  4. Stuart September 16, 2019 at 3:12 pm #

    Am I the only one that is annoyed by flyover bridges with ADA ramps that don’t also have stairs so that those of us that can use them don’t need to walk two blocks out of the way? I realize that is a complaint coming from a place of privilege. It doesn’t change the fact that I am annoyed.

  5. Steve Gjerdingen September 16, 2019 at 10:48 pm #

    Stuart,
    I am also annoyed. Another good example of this is the pedestrian bridge they just replaced in Dinkytown. Once side didn’t even have a ramp at all, but just a steep sidewalk leading up to it.

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