Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Roundabouts are here and more are coming

Florida Weekly 'Outdoors' column, 1/1/2019

This spot at McGregor Boulevard and Virginia Avenue near the Edison and Ford Estates will become a major intersection once the empty lot is developed.

A significant and welcome change is coming to many of our intersections in the form of roundabouts, a feature that benefits drivers, cyclists and pedestrians alike, including those with limited mobility, vision issues and other disabilities. Unfortunately, many older roundabouts (also known as rotaries and traffic circles) throughout the country have design flaws that have left a negative impression on some who’ve used them and even for some who haven’t due to bad press and negative word of mouth. But modern roundabouts — especially those designed in the last decade — are much improved and do indeed make using them safer and more efficient for all users.

Acceptance of roundabouts among governments is now commonplace, with FDOT leading the way, at least in terms of encouraging them via funding that flows through them (they report 20 being on state roads, a relatively low number considering that’s statewide). Slowed speeds, reduced conflict points, and lack of right-angle (T-bone) and head-on collision potential are key factors as to why they are so much safer than traditional intersections. According to Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, studies of intersections in the United States converted from traffic signals or stop signs to roundabouts have resulted in decreases in injury crashes by 72-80 percent, fatal crashes by 90 percent, and reductions in all crashes by 35-47 percent, which includes a 40 percent reduction in pedestrian collisions (no statistics for bicyclists were noted). Those are significant improvements in safety that are hard to dismiss merely because of pushback from some who fear them. At least from my perspective, motorists who truly cannot navigate them after traversing them more than once probably shouldn’t be behind the wheel in the first place. As an aside, AARP fully supports roundabouts.

While reduction in crashes and the injuries or fatalities that result are the primary reason why transportation planners are moving in this direction, cost is also an important consideration. When roundabouts are used instead of traffic signals — which is frequently the case — they save taxpayers a significant amount of money in terms of both upfront and ongoing operating costs. Storage space in the form of additional pavement for turn lanes and additional through lanes are also another cost saving element since roundabouts increase both space and delay efficiency compared to signalized intersections. Less obvious but still significant is reduced fuel consumption and air pollution when idling while waiting for the signal to change as well as less time wasted for the same reason. And lest we forget, another benefit of these type of intersections being low-tech is that when a power outage occurs chaos doesn’t prevail. You’ll recall that being the case for days and even weeks at some intersections after our recent hurricanes.

In Lee County there are 10 roundabouts already in place on public roads, 11 programmed, and 30 more planned; this doesn’t even include the many in gated communities and on other private roads. But even though the city of Fort Myers is a leader in their use there’s currently a battle taking place regarding a roundabout that’s proposed for McGregor Boulevard at Virginia Avenue, a rather benign intersection currently, but one that’s soon to be very busy. The long-empty lot adjacent to that corner will soon become City Walk, a major mixed-use development that will include offices, retail businesses, condos, townhouses and a hotel. Also, Virginia will become a primary route between Cleveland Avenue and McGregor once the realignment of Edison Avenue occurs. Based on detailed analysis that’s been undertaken, that intersection will require traffic management; the analysis indicates a roundabout would clearly be the best option versus traffic signals. But because of resistance based on misperception and fear of change among some residents, there’s enough pushback that it’s yet to be formally approved. Protected royal palms will be removed by either option.

A report on roundabout use in Lee County can be found at Lee MPO (leempo.com). Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (www.pedbikeinfo.org) and USDOT/FHWA (safety.fhwa.dot.gov) have information related to how roundabouts impact non-motorists. And because roundabouts are a vital element of Complete Streets, bikewalklee.blogspot.com has more about their use, locally and elsewhere. ¦

- Dan Moser is a long-time bicycle/pedestrian advocate and traffic safety professional who cycles, runs and walks regularly for transportation, recreation and fitness. Contact him at bikepedmoser@gmail.com and 334-6417. 

For Lee County cycling and tri events visit Caloosa Riders Bicycle Club (caloosariders.org); Florida Mudcutters (mudcutters.org); and SW Florida Biking Meetup Group (meetup.com/Biking-SWFL). The Florida Bicycle Association (floridabicycle.org) is your source for statewide happenings. BikeWalkLee’s blog site has all the information you’ll need to stay abreast of advocacy efforts in Southwest Florida as well as statewide and nationally.

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