A Minnesota Department of Transportation study out last year showed that roundabouts are safer for motorists because they help slow down traffic. That results in far fewer crashes that involve serious injuries or deaths than traditional intersections controlled by stop signs or stoplights.
While that might be true for vehicles, what’s the situation for pedestrians?
Research out of Europe indicates that, on average, converting conventional intersections to roundabouts can reduce pedestrian accidents by about 75 percent.
Single-lane roundabouts, in particular, report substantially lower pedestrian crash rates than comparable intersections with traffic signals.
None of that brings comfort to Drive reader Ross, who is about to get two of the circular interchanges near the senior center in Richfield where he lives. This summer, Hennepin County and the city of Richfield are teaming up to remove traffic lights and put in roundabouts on 66th Street at Nicollet and Lyndale avenues.
That is a big concern, especially for the many seniors living nearby who would like to be able to cross streets, he said. He points down the road to 66th Street and Portland Avenue, which he calls “a nightmare for anyone on foot.”
Crosswalks have been placed immediately before drivers enter the circle. A sign tells motorists that it is a state law to stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk.
The trouble with that, he says, is “you are looking for an opening and not paying attention to the crosswalk in front of you.”
With the circles at Lyndale and Nicollet, plans call for crosswalks to be placed farther back from the circle. That worries Ross. Before that idea is implemented, he’d like to see that arrangement tested at 66th and Portland.
“Try to cross on foot. You will see that it is not safe,” he said. “I understand that at uncontrolled intersections, especially in rural areas, car safety is greatly improved with a circle. But in an urban environment, with higher usage and more pedestrian traffic, special consideration needs to be given to pedestrian safety.”
MnDOT’s Derek Leuer said the crosswalk placement at Lyndale and Nicollet is “not just arbitrary. It would not be done if it could not be done safely. It might not make sense, but it was well thought out.”
Leuer says crossing at roundabouts is safer, because drivers tend to slow down due to the geometry of the road. Pedestrians only have to cross one or two lanes at a time and can use the median island as a halfway point to check for approaching traffic.
Ross has a suggestion, especially after a yellow beacon on 66th Street near Pizza Luce to warn drivers of the presence of pedestrians was removed. That has since been replaced with a basket of red flags that those on foot are supposed to carry and wave.
He wants city and county transportation planners to think about putting in beacons that flash red, like those on a school bus.
“Flashing yellow lights do not mean ‘stop’ to the average driver,” he said. “Of course it is going to slow down traffic and if there is a lot of pedestrian activity, even create traffic jams, but I hope it will not take a fatality or serious injury to stimulate a real solution.”
County spokesman Colin Cox says yellow flashers will be included at the crosswalks planned for the Nicollet and Lyndale roundabouts, and that the one by Pizza Luce will be replaced.