Sunday, August 2, 2015

First Northeast Roundabout Becomes 20-something

The First Modern Roundabout East of Colorado and North of Maryland Reaches 20th Birthday This August: Keck Circle Montpelier, VT.

At eventide on August 16, 1995 just after application of the Spring and Main Streets modern roundabout's first course asphalt paving, two young bicyclists circled a time or two on the still hot circular travelway. A few minutes later after the paving equipment fully cleared, traffic barriers came down and the first modern roundabout in the northeast opened for four-wheeled vehicles too. So began the first hour of Keck Circle in Montpelier, Vermont's first roundabout--the first north of Maryland and east of Colorado, and 19th built in the U.S.

That roundabout, Keck Circle, so named by City Council action commemorates citizen-activist and member of the Montpelier Roundabout Committee Andy Keck who died just weeks before the opening of his namesake roundabout, is located a block from grades 6-8 Main Street Middle School. Keck Circle traffic calms a block or two along each leg including the main crossing to the school, and has never been found to require crossing guard protection at school times. To all Montpelier school students today Keck Circle has been in place their entire lives. The roundabout defines one of the four corners of the simple rectangular Vermont Capital City downtown street grid composed of north-south Main and Elm Streets and east-west Spring and State Streets.

Controversial up to and in its early operation, a survey a year later found 85% acceptance and support. That survey was the first U.S. public opinion survey undertaken on a roundabout after construction. To date in almost 20 years of operation no serious injuries were recorded and in the first decade injuries were less than the decade previous. With about 3,000 roundabouts built as of the end of 2014 in the U.S. and Canada not a single walk mode fatality was recorded. (In Burlington, VT two walk mode fatalities occurred at the City's 75 traffic signals between 1998-2014 alone and a third at a signal adjacent to the City border in South Burlington.)

The single lane roundabout with a diameter which averages about 106 feet continues to serve about the same traffic approaching along its three legs,12,000 total vehicles entering it on an average day. About 42 tractor trailers a day travel through the roundabout as it is located on Route 12, and large tour buses are a frequent users during the fall foliage season. Designed by Michael J. Wallwork, Alternate Street Design, Orange Park, FL, Montpelier leaders at the time were Mayor Charles Karparis, City Manager Ryan Cotton and Department of Public Works Director Steven Gray. The Montpelier Roundabout Committee members included: Peter Meyer and Tony Redington (co-chairs), Keck, Gray, then Police Chief Douglas Hoyt, Donna Bate, Alan Lendway and then City Planner Joseph Zehnder. Keck Circle cost $162,000 and involved only City funds. From concept to ready-to-construct, it took two years, then one additional to complete accommodation within the City budget.

Since the opening of the roundabout the other three major intersections along Main Street received favorable preliminary feasibility studies for roundabout conversion—Main and State, Main and Barre (now in detailed study), and across the Winooski Bridge at the south terminus of Main Street at River Street/Northfield Street/Memorial Drive. Montpelier's second roundabout, a single lane roundabout at US 2/302, opened in 2009. Through 2014 there are now 14 modern roundabouts with downtown roundabouts in addition to Keck Circle in Waterbury, Manchester Center (3) and Middlebury. The three roundabouts in Manchester Center with the last two completed in 2013 constitute the first Vermont corridor of roundabouts and first walkable busy corridor in the State.

Wallwork, one of a handful of engineers who designed and promoted roundabouts from their inception in the U.S. in 1990 through today, wrote in 1992: “...I predict that engineers will increasingly realize that traffic signals are not the cure-all and, adopting a more international outlook, roundabouts will proliferate in this last major bastion of the traffic signal. Roundabouts will be used in residential streets to reduce speeds and accidents, and on arterial roads to reduce accidents and provide higher capacity. In all instances they will be more cost effective and aesthetic...” (“Roundabouts for the U.S.A.” 1992).

In the United States, once first in highway safety, fatality rates continue to slide below now a total of 18 nations with top nations (including the U.K., birthplace of the roundabout, in first place). Roundabouts cut incapacitating and fatal injuries about 90% for all modes. The U.S. fatality rate per mlle of travel now is twice that of nations at the top of the list. This means about 20,000 additional deaths each year here, as reported by Malcolm Gladwell in New Yorker Magazine, May 4. Most of the nations ahead of the U.S. heavily invested in roundabouts as well as in urban areas a full range of safe walk and bike infrastructure.

To see Keck Circle in action at school closing one can view this 5 minute-43 second video taken on the afternoon of November 1, 2013 by R.J. Lalumiere of Burlington during a field visit of North Avenue Corridor Plan Advisory Committee members.

Notes: 1. The public opinion survey report referenced, Montpelier's Modern Roundabout at Keck Circle Neighborhohod Opinion Survey: January 1997” can be viewed at:
2. The New Yorker article referred to: “The Engineer's Lament” by Malcolm Gladwell, May 4, 2015 New Yorker Magazine
3. The base reference for the “about 90%” reduction of “incapacitating and fatal injuries” obtained by installing roundabouts is: R. Retting, B. Persaud, P. Garder, D. Lord. (2001) Crash and injury reduction following installation of roundabouts in the United States” American Journal of Public Health
. This study because of sample size did not apply directly to either bicycle or walk mode rates, only “all modes rate.” Separate studies of single lane roundabouts do show reductions of serious and fatal injury rates of about 90% for walk mode and bike mode.

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