GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) -- Modern roundabouts have been around for more than a century, but it's only in recent years that traffic engineers have been putting in more of them on West Michigan roads -- and for good reason.
According to national statistics, roundabouts lead to slower speeds, less severe crashes and a 90 percent reduction in fatalities.
Statistics at the local roundabout located where M-37 and M-46 converge near Casnovia at the Kent-Muskegon county line are even better. According to the Michigan Department of Transportation, there were 17 injury crashes and three fatalities at that intersection in the three years before the roundabout was added. In the three years since it was built, there have not been any injury crashes, nor have there been any deaths.
That's a strong argument for the use of roundabouts and traffic designers have taken note.
In recent years, the City of Grand Rapids has added a number of roundabouts. There are four on Monroe Avenue NW, two on Wealthy Street SE and one on Cherry Street SE. There are no MDOT statistics available about the safety of those roundabouts yet, but they are expected to be similar to national stats.
There is also an economic incentive to install them. Since they don't require traffic signals, MDOT spokesperson John Richard says, they save electricity.
"They can save up to $5,000 per traffic signal per year," Richard said. "They may be more expensive initially, but are cheaper in the long run.
TIPS FOR DRIVING THROUGH ROUNDABOUTS
But not everyone seems to know how to navigate them and many people are anxious at just the thought.
Chris Zull, the traffic safety manager for the City of Grand Rapids, says opinions of roundabouts are mixed.
"There are a couple of different camps on it. Some do (like them). Some don't. Generally, I'd say more do," Zull said.
Once you become familiar with the concept of a roundabout, traversing them becomes less daunting.
There are a few simple rules to keep in mind. As you approach the roundabout, take it slow and keep an eye out for pedestrians. Yield to them if they are in the crosswalk.
Zull said roundabouts are safer for pedestrians, too, because people only cross one lane of traffic at a time and drivers naturally slow. Statistics show a 40 percent reduction in car-pedestrian crashes.
The next rule you should remember: Look to your left. Cars already in the roundabout have the right-of-way. If there are no cars, proceed on your way. If there are, use your best judgment to determine if the gap between you and the car already in the roundabout is wide enough for you to proceed. If it is, there is no need to yield. If it's not, you should wait until the car passes and then enter the roundabout
Keep in mind that you usually won't have to come to a complete stop.
"The continuous-flow intersection of a roundabout is different than the experience we have in an all-way stop. It does feel at times that people equate the two. … It's a yield, not a stop," Zull said.
What if the roundabout has more than one lane? In this case, think about where you want to go. If you want to go right or straight, make sure you get into the right hand lane. If you want to go left, get into the left hand lane before you reach the roundabout. Keep an eye out for signs that will tell you where you should be.
There's one more rule. If you don't make your turn, you are allowed to remain in the roundabout, but only for three trips around the circle. After that, you need to exit the roundabout or face a traffic fine.
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