Driving in circles - yes, on purpose

  • Article by: DAVID PETERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 25, 2011 - 11:27 AM

As traffic roundabouts sprout like mad all across Minnesota, transportation planners have learned that peculiar new intersections and seniors don't always mix.

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A rendering of what the Hwy. 169-I-494 interchange will look like, with several new roundabouts.

Photo: , Courtesy of Minnesota Department of Transportation

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As traffic roundabouts sprout like mad all across Minnesota, transportation planners have learned that peculiar new intersections and seniors don't always mix.

So with a massive complex of roundabouts about to open seconds away from a major senior housing complex in Bloomington, the state is inviting them -- and everyone else -- to an open house this week to learn more and even practice first.

Here is what's happening, there and around the state:

At Hwys. I-494 and 169

As part of a new intersection that removes annoying traffic lights from a major highway, six roundabouts are to open within the next year.

Four of them -- two on the north side of the interchange, two on the south -- are to be in use by this winter as part of a new frontage road "ring" system. Two more arrive next year.

A new experience

"It's probably safe to say that this is the first of its kind," said Jim Rosenow, acting design standards engineer for the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the man who fields calls with complaints or questions. "We've had three in a series but I'm not sure if there are any with four, and this will be a cluster with six."

The idea is to make intersections safer by forcing people to slow down and ease their way around circles rather than risk being broadsided at a conventional intersection. And that should be senior-friendly.

But transportation planners heartily agree with Scott County Commissioner Barbara Marschall when she says that based on anecdotal evidence, the reaction to them varies by age. "I know of older people, even in my own family, who will alter their entire journey to avoid one," she said.

The open house ...

... will feature officials at stations casually discussing the safety elements and design of roundabouts, and how to use them. (Simple advice: Always look left, and ignore all the rest of what's going on.) There will be a simulated roundabout that folks can drive. And there can be ASL or foreign language interpreters. Call 651-366-4720 if you need one.

How many are there?

Rosenow at first guessed Minnesota must be pushing triple figures, but a glance at the state's official list corrected him -- upward.

"As of February, there were already more than 100 roundabouts on the ground," he reported, "so I suspect we'll be pushing 125 before long if you count the locations that were in construction and in design at the time."

David Peterson • 952-746-3285

  • WHERE ARE THEY?

    Generally speaking, suburbs and exurbs are the leading locations. Counting those being designed and planned for, the leading counties are:

    Hennepin, 34 Benton, 8

    Dakota, 22 Crow Wing, 7

    Carver, 20 Anoka 6

    Washington, 19 Ramsey 6

    Stearns, 14 Olmsted 6

    Scott, 11

    OPEN HOUSE

    When: Saturday, Oct. 15, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

    Where: Braemar Golf Course, 6364 John Harris Dr., Edina

    For more information see www.dot.state.mn.us/metro/projects/169.

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