The Journal Gazette
Sunday, September 03, 2017 1:00 am


Roundabout path toward better traffic

“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.” – from “Frankenstein,” Mary Shelley

When the city proposes to turn afamiliar intersection into a roundabout, some discomfort is only natural. 

Even people who profess to like change don't particularly enjoy altering their driving habits. Negotiating roundabouts does take some getting used to, and it's difficult for drivers used to stop-and-go intersections to grasp immediately how a circular, continuous traffic pattern could work better. 

Some resistance to any roundabout is almost a given. At a meeting last week, City Engineer Shan Gunawardena was sharply questioned about the need for the roundabout the city plans at Goshen and Lillian avenues and Sherman Boulevard, known by generations of motorists as the Five Points intersection. The fate of the venerable North Side Bait and Tackle Store has been a particular concern, though Gunawardena told the group the city is willing to move the 95-year-old building to a new site.

There is lots of evidence that roundabouts – especially the predominantly one-lane versions Fort Wayne has been building – are safer and more efficient than stop-sign- or traffic-signal-regulated intersections. Roundabouts reduce pollution from stop-and-go driving and require less maintenance. By allowing traffic to flow continuously but slowly in one direction, they eliminate left turns, make it all but impossible to have a head-on crash, and allow drivers and pedestrians more time to react to problems.

Carmel will be Indiana's test case on whether it is possible to build too many roundabouts. With half Fort Wayne's land area and less than half its population, the Indianapolis suburb has more than 100 and plans to build more. Fort Wayne has taken a much more measured approach.  

Though long-term costs are lower, roundabouts are initially more expensive than traditional intersections, Gunawardena said in an interview last week, because more land must usually beacquired. “Typically, when you're building a roundabout, it has a little bit wider footprint, because of the circle you've got to negotiate,” he said. 

An intersection may become a candidate for roundabout conversion, Gunawardena said, if it converges in a skewed pattern, has more than four approaches, has a large volume of traffic that comes from one direction and gridlocks a left-turn lane, or if a nearby bridge or feature makes it hard to add lanes to accommodate traffic volume.

Fort Wayne tries to keep its roundabouts to one lane. (One side of the Superior-Ewing-Fairfield circle has a double lane.) Multiple lanes are often more confusing and intimidating to drivers.

The Five Points roundabout is part of a larger plan to polish up a major gateway into Fort Wayne. The city plans to add curbs and gutters, storm sewers, decorative lighting, and landscaping and a sidewalk.

But roundabouts are not primarily about economic development and quality of life. They're about safer, less frustrating driving. 

Safety in the round

“Roundabouts reduce the types of crashes where people are seriously hurt or killed by 78-82% when compared to conventional stop-controlled and signalized intersections,” reports the Federal Highway Administration.

According to the Fort Wayne Division of Public Works and City Utilities, no injury accidents have been reported at Superior Circle, the Wells-Superior-Ewing-Fairfield roundabout, since its September 2015 opening. There were 15 injury accidents there in the five previous years.

No injury accidents have been reported at the Auburn-Wallen roads roundabout since it opened in August 2015. In the previous five years, there had been 12 there.

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