Monday, June 25, 2018

Navigating a roundabout in just a few simple steps

By Andrea E. Petrich


Let me guess: Some of you just cringed and some of you smiled.

Few subjects we talk about elicit as big of a response as roundabouts. Some of you love them. Some of you...don’t. There are already more than 100 roundabouts on our state highways. For some of you, that is 100 too many, and for others, it’s not nearly enough.

Well, the truth is, roundabouts make sense in some spots but not in others. In areas where there is a very heavy amount of traffic on the highway and side streets and where there are a series of traffic signals leading to the intersection, it may not make as much sense. But there is no one-size-fits-all answer.
Drivers entering a roundabout always yield to anyone already in the roundabout.

This year, we’re building roundabouts in Pacific, Skagit, Snohomish, Spokane and Whatcom counties. We don’t take these projects lightly. We study the area, traffic patterns and number of vehicles who use the area –among other things – before deciding what improvement makes the most sense. We talk to people who regularly travel through that area, consider future growth and available budget and come up with a plan.

Why roundabouts?

So why use a roundabout at all? Safety, for one. Intersections with roundabouts lower the number of possible conflict points between vehicles and reduce the speed of vehicles. Roundabouts lower the risk of deadly crashes by 90 percent, and serious crashes by 75 percent.

Roundabouts also help keep traffic moving. Travelers don’t need to wait for a green light. Instead, they just yield to traffic already in the roundabout, so the intersection can handle more traffic in the same amount of time.
Pay attention to signs leading up to roundabout intersections
as they’ll help you choose your lane in advance.

Finally, roundabouts are less expensive than building bridges, ramps, overpasses and underpasses. With many, many highway needs throughout the state, we need to find ways to make available funding go the furthest.

Navigating through roundabouts

While the first roundabout in the United States was designed in 1907, common use of modern roundabouts in this country didn’t really start until the 1990s. So it’s not surprising when people express concerns about using them. For some people, they simply didn’t grow up using them when they were learning to drive. We get it, there can be a learning curve. Adding to the confusion is that not every roundabout is the same. Some have one lane, some have two.
Improved pedestrian and cyclist access are part of any new roundabout construction.
Be alert to those using crosswalks or nearby trails.

So here’s a quick primer on how to use roundabouts:

  • Yield to vehicles on the left. Vehicles already in the roundabout have the right-of-way. They will always be coming from your left. As you near the roundabout, pay attention to the yield sign and slow down. If a vehicle is already coming, yield. If not, enter the roundabout to your right (never enter to your left!).
  • Pick a lane. If it’s just a one-lane roundabout, this is easy. If it’s two lanes, be sure to pay attention to the signs as they will direct you which lane to choose. If you pick the wrong one, just continue to circle the roundabout, signal, and safely move into the correct lane.
  • Signal. When you’re ready to exit the roundabout, signal as you would any time you make a turn. This lets vehicles behind you and vehicles waiting to enter know your intention.
  • Watch for pedestrians/bikes. Many roundabouts have crosswalks as well. Be sure to be alert for anyone needing to cross.
  • Give larger vehicles extra room. Semis, large RVs and other large loads may need extra room to move through the roundabout. Work together to keep everyone safe and moving.
  • Keep moving. Don’t stop in the middle of a roundabout. That’s often how collisions happen. If you think you missed your exit, just continue going around until you come back to it. Remember, vehicles already in the roundabout have the right-of-way.

People navigate through a recently completed roundabout at SR 20 and Miller Gibralter roads in Skagit County.

Still unsure. We have a five-part video series that goes over maneuvering through a roundabout that may help.

Simple, right? Yield to traffic already in the roundabout, enter to your right, signal to exit, pay attention to signs and watch your speed.

What’s next for roundabouts?

Several roundabouts are currently under construction or will be soon. The SR 20/SR 20 Spur area in Anacortes now has two new roundabouts open. These roundabouts in Skagit County will improve safety for those who live or visit the Whidbey Island, Anacortes or San Juan Island areas and shorten wait times through the popular corridor.

The Clear Lake area of SR 9 near Sedro-Woolley, SR 548/Grandview Road and SR 542/SR 9 East Junction in Ferndale, SR 9 in Marysville and SR 524 in Snohomish County are all getting roundabouts this year. In Pacific County, US 101 in Raymond is getting one, and so is US 395 in Deer Park.

We know roundabouts aren’t popular with everyone, but we also know they improve safety and traffic flow. It just takes a little understanding on how to use them and everyone working together, and we’ll see improvements at all of these interchanges.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Still curious how people are supposed to navigate the one at Hunts Point on 520, given the traffic situation there. If people followed the rules, traffic coming from NE 28th St would never get to enter.

Or, I suppose they would enter the outer lane, get blocked by the traffic existing the circle onto the non-HOV on-ramp, and continue to go around until they're blocked by traffic entering from NE 28th St.

The only reason it seems to work at all is people in the circle have had to yield to traffic entering the circle, which is completely opposite of the intended flow.

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