Traffic safety engineers will tell you that roundabouts at intersections are much more efficient and much safer than traditional intersections. However, when two roundabouts were constructed on 159th street outside Blue Valley High School in Stilwell last summer, students and parents were concerned. Having no experience with navigating roundabouts, students struggled with them at first, but soon learned the rules. District officials hope that the roundabouts will increase traffic safety in front of the high school by slowing down traffic and reducing the odds of dangerous head-on and side-impact collisions.
Roundabouts Are Only Safer If You Know How to Use Them
Common throughout Europe for decades, roundabouts are fairly new in the U.S. As road construction projects continue throughout Kansas, roundabouts are increasingly being used to replace traditional intersections because of their positive effects.
However, drivers in many communities have found there's a learning curve that can last a couple of years. During that time, accidents are common, although with less serious effects than in traditional intersections. Since traffic is moving slowly and all in the same direction, most roundabout accidents are minor, and this contributes to saving lives in auto collisions. Knowing who has the right-of-way is key to successfully navigating a roundabout—once you've traveled around the circle a few times, you'll start to learn how to maneuver through this kind of intersection.
Types of Circular Intersections You'll Find in Kansas
Roundabouts are actually one of four common types of circular intersections. Considered the most efficient and safest, most new circular intersections are roundabouts. The four main types of circular intersections include the following:
- Roundabout. A roundabout is a specific design that controls the speed of vehicles in the circle. It requires entering vehicles to yield, and has channelized approaches that ensure cars stay in their designated lanes.
- Rotary. Rotaries are large diameter circular intersections that don't provide the same safety features as roundabouts. They were popular in the Northeast U.S. in the early days of road construction, but fell out of favor in the 1950s due to safety concerns. An example of a rotary is Meyer Circle in Kansas City.
- Signalized traffic circles. These traffic circles use traffic signals to control one or more access points to the intersection. Less common than roundabouts or rotaries, Dupont Circle in Washington, DC is an example.
- Neighborhood traffic circles. Mostly used to slow traffic through neighborhoods and for aesthetic effect, these are small circles that don't really serve a traffic flow or safety function.
For the most part, as a driver in Kansas, you'll navigate roundabouts more than any other type of circular intersection.
Types of Roundabouts
Depending on the amount of traffic a roundabout has to handle, there are several designs you may encounter. The following types of roundabouts may be found around Kansas City and Overland Park:
- Mini-roundabout. Designed to handle up to 15,000 cars a day, mini-roundabouts are 45-90 feet in diameter and limit speeds to 15-20 miles per hour. There's only a single lane entering at each approach and no raised center island, making them fairly easy to navigate.
- Single-lane roundabout. Up to 25,000 cars can pass through a single-lane roundabout in a day. As the name suggests, each approach consists of a single lane, but the 90-180 foot diameter circle limits speeds to 20-25 miles per hour.
- Multi-lane roundabout. Urban areas with a lot of traffic make use of large multi-lane roundabouts. As approaches can have two or more lanes entering, negotiating this type of circle can be confusing. A two-lane roundabout can handle up to 45,000 cars a day and cars can enter at speed up to 30 miles per hour.
Most of the newer roundabouts in Kansas, including the ones at Blue Valley High School, are multi-lane roundabouts.
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