When you think of small-town traffic, you most likely think of sleepy little towns with the usual cast of school buses, farm machinery, and friendly waves; you certainly don’t think about the roundabouts you see in larger cities. However, after a sudden increase in serious traffic accidents at the intersection of US 22 and Jamison Road, citizens of Washington Court House, Ohio are discussing just that: roundabouts.
What recently started as a “call to action” after two serious multi-vehicle crashes occurred within the same week, quickly became a hotbed of opinions on the best options to help make this specific intersection safer for residents. After contacting representatives with the Ohio Department of Transportation, citizens were informed that the county has plans in place to add a roundabout to the area in hopes of slowing down traffic enough to prevent the risk of the more serious injuries that occur from higher speed accidents. This information however caused quite the divide between those who feel a roundabout would only complicate matters and those who have seen it work successfully in other areas and believe it would be beneficial here as well.
So, with all this divide between adding traffic lights (the intersection currently has 2 stop signs on each side of the intersection with 4 lanes of traffic crossing between) or a roundabout as a solution, we decided to dig in and investigate the pros of this structure in an effort to better inform the community.
First and foremost, what exactly is a roundabout? Roundabouts are designed to be safer and more efficient than a traditional intersection. The circular geometry creates a low-speed (20-30mph) environment inside of the roadway. The circular shape also works to prevent crashes such as “T-Bone” and left-angle crashes which tend to be more severe than lower-angle and lower-speed crashes. As it pertains to this intersection, adding a roundabout would allow drivers to focus on traffic from the left, as opposed to the current 4 lanes of crossing traffic, and reducing risk.
…what about farm equipment and semis?
One of the biggest arguments against placing a roundabout in the area is that as a rural community, Washington Court House has many farms, and with them comes lots of farm machinery. US 22 is also an access route to 71 which brings semi and commercial vehicle traffic. How will these common vehicles navigate the structure of a roundabout is a question that has been posed by many. One way that this is accomplished is by adding truck aprons- an area between the central island and the traveled way that is mountable by larger vehicles like semis and farm machinery but is not used by passenger vehicles.
…what about the shift changes at YUSA?
Another concern is that when shift change happens at the local factory, YUSA, the area will become congested. If there is an adequate gap in between cars, motorists can enter the roundabout without stopping. If there is not adequate space between cars and the motorist needs to yield upon entry, the delays are brief and typically average less than the amount of time spent at a traffic light. Once in the roundabout, drivers have the right-of-way, so they will not have to stop or yield to exit, which creates the efficiency that roundabouts are known for.
…what if we just don’t like them or want one?
Much of the negative opinions regarding roundabouts come from a lack of education and experience with them. The IIHS performed a study of three communities in which single-lane roundabouts replaced stop-sign-controlled intersections. Prior to the construction, only 31% of the community motorists supported the idea of a roundabout being added. After more than a year of the roundabouts in operation, those approval numbers jumped to 71%.
…how effective is a roundabout?
Roundabouts have 8 potential points of conflict versus 32 potential points of conflict in a traditional intersection. A Federal Highway Administration study found the risk of serious injury and fatal crashes at a two-way stop intersection was reduced by an astonishing 90%. When intersections are replaced by roundabouts, the same FHW administration found a 48% reduction in crashes and an 80% drop in serious injury and fatal crashes.
…what are the Pros/Cons of a traditional 4-way intersection?
Easier for pedestrians to cross the street
Motorist comfortability in not having to learn a new traffic system
Stop lights and stop signs can still be ignored and run through
Traffic efficiency is slower than a roundabout
…what are the Pros/Cons of a roundabout?
20% increase in efficiency for motorists
Allows more cars to cross at a time
Doesn’t need traffic lights
Studies confirm safer than traditional 4-way intersections, a reduction in crashes overall especially serious injury and fatal crashes
Will take longer to put in place than a traffic light
Overall, it is safe to assume that we are all in agreeance that something must be done to remedy the frequency and severity of serious and fatal crashes at this particular intersection in our town. Any step forward is a step in the right direction.