Sunday, April 1, 2012



About 100 attendees, mostly biking enthusiasts, gathered at the Main Street Landing “Lake and College Building” in Burlington Saturday (March 31) though nary a discussion occurred at the joint sessions about the treatment critical to walker safety: the roundabout.

Even the keynote speaker who also presented, Jeff Olson, the former New York State Department of Transportation bicycle pedestrian coordinator failed to mention that across the lake the roundabout became his former employer's policy standard seven years ago. While Vermont already has six walker fatalities this year compared to an average of four annually in the recent past, nothing about walker safety creeped into discussions. Burlington itself experienced a fatal and a serious injury at signalized intersections in a recent week.

The nation with an impressive comprehensive highway safety plan—France—leads the world in the number of roundabouts, about 31,000 at the end of 2010 building with 1,400 built yearly 1993-2003. The U.S.? A construction of 750 would be good for this year, about a $1.5 billion investment—if the U.S. invested at the rate of the French in the 1990s we would be building about ten times the current rate, about 7,000 roundabouts annually at a cost of about $15 billion--more than twice the amount built in the 21 years 1990-2011, about 2,500 roundabouts built. One cannot begin the policy of a “zero fatality rate” challenge posed for the first time by AAA without an aggressive investment in roundabouts. The U.S.--and Canada—remain two nations completely lacking even a hint of a comprehensive highway and street safety program, one with measurable goals by mode and ongoing monitoring of performance.

Vermont with eight roundabouts since the first in 1995 will have at least ten by the end of the year as two begin construction in Manchester Center this spring—a “French production rates” would be about 15-20 a year with at least a third in the Burlington metro area.

While roundabouts at busy intersections cut gasoline and emissions (including greenhouse gases) by about a third, reduce delay for all users, traffic calm in all directions to nearly 900 feet, and enable more walking and bicycling, their most important user impact is on average a reduction of serious injuries and fatalities by 90%. Car occupants and walkers get the bulk of the safety benefit and no modes receive a penalty.

Vermont boasts the first state or province policy in law to employ roundabouts at dangerous intersections, but Vermont has fallen behind as New York, Virginia and two western Canadian provinces which adopted “roundabouts only” policies.

Ironically, this year marks the 20th anniversary of the August 1992 three day walking/bicycling workshop in Montpelier where roundabouts were first introduced to community leaders and officials—and Montpelier home to the first northeastern roundabout in 1995, Brattleboro which led the northeast with the first interstate interchange roundabout in 1999 and Manchester Center in 1997 led the construction of the first Vermont roundabouts.

Perhaps next year the Chittenden Walk/Bike Summit will hear about the intersection which is standard in the land across the waters of Lake Champlain. Then perhaps advocacy can nudge the building of more roundabouts thereby bringing improved walker safety not only for the Burlington area but for the State as well.

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