Friday, August 17, 2012



Current TV ads promoting the State of New York cite the State being historically first in lots of areas—including the first lengthy transportation canal—and asserts the State still a leader in industry and commerce today. Early last century New York led the nation in developing rules of the road, the beginnings of highway design and safety, and traffic management--largely through the efforts of William Phelps Eno who born in a wealthy family actually never got a driver license.

Eno also gets credit for taking a traffic concept from a French town planner and installed the first traffic circle in New York City in 1905, Columbus Circle. This precursor of the modern roundabout was followed shortly thereafter in 1907 by Paris' Place Charles DeGaulle (then Place l'Etoile), and a circle in the first “garden city”, new town Letchworth, UK in 1909. It is fitting then that New York became the home of the first “roundabouts only” policy begun in 2005. New roundabouts can now be found throughout the State in spite of recent funding constraints for highway investment. For example, the Town of Malta, a suburb of Albany, already has twelve roundabouts with two more in development. New roundabouts can also be found in the downtowns and town centers, for examples, Glens Falls, Hamburg, Plattsburgh, Voorheesville, and Albany itself.

The “roundabouts only” policy of the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) was joined by the Virginia department (a “preference” for roundabouts) and two Canadian provincial departments, British Columbia (first) and Alberta. The Canadian rules call for roundabouts use whenever “more than two-way stop control” is required to control traffic. Once in place “roundabouts only” policies lead to most new installations being roundabouts and conversions of most, if not all, signalized intersections to roundabouts.

The “roundabouts only” policy located in the NYSDOT “Highway Design Manual” is as follows:

    1. Intersection at Grade
        5.9.1...when a project includes reconstructing or constructing new intersections, a roundabout alternative is to be analyzed to determine if it is a feasible solution based on site constraints, including ROW, environmental factors, and other design constraints.

...When the analysis shows that a roundabout is a feasible alternative, it should be considered the Department’s preferred alternative due to the proven substantial safety benefits and other operational benefits.

And California? Well behind the curve in adopting roundabout technology, the State transportation agency, Caltrans, seven years after New York moves towards a pro-roundabout approach as that agency ponders a policy which “requires consideration of a roundabout” when any investment takes place at an intersection. Within the past few years—really every year--California experienced high profile T-bone crashes at intersections, including the death of famed author David Halberstam and a horrific crash killing Anaheim Angels rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart (who had just pitched an excellent game) and two friends when the car Adenhart was driving got T-boned by a by a car running a red light.

The emerging Caltrans policy helps propel other states and localities to moved towards “roundabouts only” policies for no other reason than safety, the primary reason behind pro-roundabout policies to date. (Of course at busy intersections roundabouts cut delay for all users, reduce pollutant emissions and gas use by about 30%, cost less to maintain, and enhance scenic quality.) On average, anything but a roundabout generates serious and fatal injuries at a 900% greater rate. For walkers, a single lane roundabout reduces fatalities by about 90% and at two lane roundabouts also reduce walker injury crashes significantly.
With proper designs, roundabouts overall provide a safety benefit to bicyclists.

Welcome to the roundabout age California!

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