The first time you approached the roundabout on 159th Street in Stilwell, you may have panicked. With no traffic light, you were funneled into the circle without quite knowing what to do next.
More likely, however, you were able to enter, go part way around the circle, and exit onto your desired path without much difficulty.
That's because roundabouts are designed to guide your car where it needs to go at a speed that allows you to get there safely. How does this work?
User-Friendly Design of Roundabouts
You may still be fearful when you approach a roundabout of any size in Kansas, but believe it or not, a lot of geometry and engineering goes into the design to ensure there's no reason for concern. By designing approaches that force cars to slow down, and calculating the curve of the circle precisely to accommodate large vehicles while controlling the speed of normal cars, roundabouts eliminate much of the danger inherent in typical four-way intersections.
According to the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT), the following roundabout features are intended to increase safety:
- Counter-clockwise circulation. Entering the circle, all drivers are directed into a counter-clockwise circulation. Since all vehicles are moving in the same direction, this nearly eliminates the chances of head-on or side-impact collisions.
- Circulatory roadway. The tightness of the circle is designed so motorists drive at a consistent, slow speed around a center island. The number of lanes depends on the volume and types of traffic that are expected at the intersection.
- Entrance line. Painted on the road leading to the roundabout, the entrance line indicates where drivers should stop when yielding to vehicles already in the roundabout.
- Splitter island. The triangle of concrete separating the entering traffic from the exiting traffic is known as a splitter island. These are angled to guide drivers in the proper direction for entering or exiting the roundabout.
- Central island. The concrete or landscaped island in the center of the circle prohibits vehicles from cutting straight through the circle and forces vehicles to drive counter-clockwise in a slow, consistent speed through the roundabout.
- Truck apron. Roundabouts that regularly accommodate large tucks have a low curb around the central island called a truck apron. The apron gives semi-trucks more room by allowing them to roll their rear wheels over the apron as they move through the roundabout while discouraging other drivers from using the apron, helping to keep their speeds slow and consistent.
- Accessible pedestrian crossing. Roundabouts in lower traffic areas may allow for pedestrian crossing with crosswalks around the circle through splitter islands. Pedestrians should never walk into a roundabout and across the central island.
As drivers become accustomed to roundabouts, they often stop thinking about the features constructed to ease their commute and keep them safe—which is exactly the intention of a well-designed roundabout
Roundabouts Are Safer Than Traditional Intersections
According to KDOT, studies show that roundabouts have the following positive effects:
- Collisions are reduced by 50-to-90 percent when a four-way intersection is replaced by a roundabout.
- When crashes do occur, they are generally slow-speed side-swipes with fewer, less-serious injuries.
- Points where a collision could occur—known as conflict points—decrease from 32 in a traditional intersection to eight in a roundabout.
- The number of potential vehicle-pedestrian conflict points decreases from 24 at a four-way intersection to eight in a roundabout.
It's important that drivers follow all road signs when approaching a roundabout, and that they use the appropriate lane for the exit they intend to take.
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