The Drive: Education could reduce roundabout confusion

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 21, 2014 - 1:07 PM
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Courtesy of Minnesota Department of Transportation A rendering of what the Hwy. 169-I-494 interchange will look like, with several new roundabouts.

Commuter Terry Jung has seen the bewildered looks on motorists who find themselves in the double-lane roundabout at the intersection of Interstate 494 and Hwy. 169 in Eden Prairie.

He’s had other drivers cut him off as they blindly changed lanes inside the circle. He’s seen them slam on their brakes, honk their horns and gun it to get ahead of other drivers, and generally not cooperate with their fellow travelers.

“It’s like once a week, OMG, here we go,” Jung said. “People who drive it every day get it, but for those new to the area, it’s an adventure. This is never talked about in driver’s ed. That would go a long way [toward improving things].”

Last month, the Minnesota Department of Transportation did an outreach event at the River Hills Mall in Mankato to help drivers get comfortable with double-lane roundabouts, and they’ll need to: Two of them will be built on Hwy. 22 there this summer.

A large rubber mat with lane markings and signs leading up to and inside a roundabout allowed people to walk through the movements they would make if they were driving a car. A table model with Matchbox cars to push around was also on hand.

“I was chatting with a lady who said she never goes to the inside lane for fear of getting stuck,” said MnDOT traffic engineer Scott Thompson. “The joke is Clark Griswold in ‘European Vacation’ getting stuck in a roundabout, but you can always get out.

“You could see the light bulb go off,” Thompson said. “It was an immense help.”

John Hourdos of the Minnesota Traffic Observatory said he’d like to see roundabouts included as part of the driver’s license test, but that would require rebuilding examination stations.

He said that short of that, more events such as the one in Mankato are needed, as well as increased publicity about the printed and video resources MnDOT has on www.roundaboutready.com.

Roundabout 101

Roundabouts have been shown to reduce crashes by 40 percent and fatal crashes by 89 percent. But many motorists continue to misunderstand the rules, leading to avoidable crashes.

Multilane roundabouts force motorists to make more decisions, Thompson said. But drivers can get through problem-free by following a few simple rules.

A roundabout is just like any intersection — except for the circle, said Kristin Asher, city engineer in Richfield, where there is a double-lane roundabout at 66th Street and Portland Avenue.

When approaching a roundabout, “get in the right lane if you would go right or the left lane if you want to go left. Check the sign [for the proper lane] if you want to go straight through.”

A common error is that drivers fail to yield to all traffic inside the roundabout. Yield means to give the right of way. “It’s ingrained that yield means merge, and that is not what it means,” Asher said.

Jung asked if better signage and more advance warning would help traffic flow. Research conducted by Hourdos indicates so.

After 66th and Portland was re-striped and new signs were put up 250 feet from the intersection rather than just 50 feet, the number of drivers who picked the correct lanes increased.

 

Follow news about traffic and commuting at The Drive on startribune.com. Got traffic or transportation questions, or story ideas? E-mail drive@startribune.com, tweet @stribdrive or call Tim Harlow at 612-673-7768.

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