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Roundabout anxiety & the truth about driving habits
Dennis Wyatt

Judging by some of the comments on social media you’d think the roundabout being built on Louise Avenue between Cottage Avenue and the Highway 99 overpass in Manteca is the city’s take on waterboarding.

It’s been blogged that they’re dangerous, increase accident rates, make it dangerous for pedestrians, and impede traffic.

I used to think the positive impacts of roundabouts were questionable until San Joaquin County  installed a roundabout on the four-lane 11th Street where it bisects Kasson Road/Grant Line Road west of Interstate 5 in the Tracy area.

It used to be a thrill and a half going through the intersection with people running red lights at 70 mph, big rigs struggling to make safe turns, and motorists on 11th Street slamming on brakes as the lights changed while they were driving as if they got the green flag at the Indy 500.

The 11th Street roundabout that exclusively uses yield signs rarely sees a backup in traffic. 

It slows traffic where roads intersect — a place where a high percentage of accidents happen. There are still occasionally accidents but they are significantly less frequent and certainly much less crushing in terms of bone and metal damage.

And the two accidents I have seen at the 11th Street roundabout passing through it four times a week during the past three years have been solo affairs. They also speak volumes of why our roads can be dangerous due to our driving habits.

In both cases drivers on 11th Street literally drove into the roundabout on a clear late morning and ended up coming to rest in the drought resistant landscaping at its center.

Before anyone starts yakking about they would not have hit the roundabout if it wasn’t there, think about what you’re implying.

There are warning signs approaching the roundabout. It’s right in front of you. To not see it means you’re not paying attention as you pilot give or take 3,000 pounds down the road that at any second has the potential to become  a lethal weapon.

Maneuvering through a roundabout requires you to pay attention. It also means entering the roundabout regardless of whether you want to end up going straight, left or right means you need to turn to the right and look to your left for traffic. Once in the roundabout you only have to worry about traffic entering from the right as you look to exit to the right.

Roundabouts are godsends for pedestrians trying to cross a busy four lane road when they are designed like the one being created on Louise Avenue. Pedestrians not only have a somewhat of a safe haven midway across the street but they can better judge traffic because drivers have to slow down to navigate the roundabout. They also can cross the street in segments meaning having to worry only about one direction of travel at a time

Instead of going 45 mph if the posted speed limit on a straight stretch through an intersection is 40 mph they are going 20 mph through a roundabout posted for 25 mph. Such a design and the modified behavior it triggers in drivers substantially increases safety. You need to pay attention. If you think that’s a problem you should be paying attention in intersections controlled by traffic signals regardless even if you have the green. Roundabouts force us to pay attention and slow down — something we all should do when passing through intersections but rarely do.

Better yet, roundabouts actually reduce travel time a bit as they reduce the need for queues and light changes eliminating the stop and wait time at traffic signals that occur even when there are no vehicles coming on the cross street to make forward movement dangerous.

There are other bonuses. On the rare occasions when electrical service is disrupted there is no stop and go slinky effect. Instead traffic continues to keep moving.

Imagine if the city had required traffic signals instead of a roundabout on Louise Avenue. Traffic would have been backed up on Louise when they got the red light to allow traffic from the TruMark neighborhood being developed to merge onto Louise. Worse yet the signal would have been virtually on top of the existing signals at nearby Louise and Cottage avenues.

Besides keeping traffic flowing on a busy four-lane road, reducing the potential for accidents, and enhancing pedestrian safety roundabouts also reduce future costs for taxpayers.

The developer is picking up the $1 million bill for the roundabout as opposed to a $500,000 tab for traffic signals. The ongoing maintenance costs for the roundabout is next to nothing compared to traffic signals.

There are those who have expressed borderline bitterness for Louise Avenue to be partially closed at times as work on the roundabout is taking place. Yes it is inconvenient but would you rather spend the next 40 years dealing with another traffic signal on Louise Avenue to keep  you from going on your merry way? Frustrations in the long haul will be significantly less compared to the short term inconvenience.

Then there are side benefits such as less idling at red lights when cars produce the highest level of air pollution.

Roundabouts designed right are an effective way to reduce speeding and to reduce traffic accidents. That’s because our sloppy driving habits when we enter roundabouts are set aside as drivers keep track of others as their attention is focused by the dictates of a roundabout’s dynamics.