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.


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.

BruceV said...

I'm a huge fan of them. They are far more efficient than a 4 way stop especially as no one seemed to know how to handle 4 way stops. The intersection in Bellingham at Cordata and Kellogg Rd was always a mess with the 4 way stop. With the roundabout, there is rarely any sort of a backup and any backup quickly clears.

The Youtube video WSDOT created to show how to use them is also very good in my opinion.

Unknown said...

I am concerned about the lack of visibility on the roundabout at NE 124th Street and Highway 203. It needs maintenance. You can't see the traffic approaching the roundabout with the tall bushy trees and weeds. It would also be nice to have a few other markers for traffic approaching the roundabout from the south entrance. They come into the roundabout pretty fast! Thanks.

Unknown said...

The biggest issue I have in all roundabouts is they do not take into consideration the heavy Trucking industry in the trucking industry that supports a local communities they are confusing to the motoring public generations have you stop lights and stop signs and they're ridiculous placement of them in the waste of money on them when many of our bridges need a repair or replacement. u.s. 101 loop for example most bridges are 1930s the other problem ; US 20 in the Port Townsend where they place two ,have delayed emergency response in and out of town for emergency vehicles

WSDOT said...

Thanks for reading and for your feedback. When our engineers are in the design phase of a project, they are absolutely considering all traffic that uses the area. We make sure that the area is sufficient for all vehicles to get where they need to go by including truck aprons on our roundabouts to provide extra room for those larger vehicles. I don’t drive through the Port Townsend area regularly, but have been through those SR 20 roundabouts a half dozen times this summer and have never experienced a delay.

Our funding is provided for specific projects by the state legislature and WSDOT can’t just decide we want it to be used somewhere else. Yes, some of our bridges are old but they are inspected biannually and if repairs are needed to keep the bridge safe, we make those immediately or close the bridge until those fixes are in place.

We’ll continue to work with Washington State Patrol and other local law enforcement agencies and keep sharing information, like in this blog - to remind travelers of roundabout navigation.

Unknown said...

I support roundabouts and traffic circles, however, people need to learn to drive them. The congestion at I-5 Exit 21 (Woodland) is a prime candidate for a good roundabout. It is the convergence of a Federal highway, a state highway and city streets. It is a mess!

Unknown said...

It is impossible to "keep moving" AND "Stop for pedestrians". Roundabouts fundamentally DO NOT WORK with crosswalks. Ruins the entire concept.
Use pedestrian bridges.

Unknown said...

As a semi truck driver I see cars trying to pass me in them all the time. They need bigger signs saying not to get along side of us in a roundabout. I don't know how many times I have had to stop in one or crush a car & the occupants inside.

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