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But not everyone is happy with the change
By Glenn Gilbert, Executive Editor
December 23, 2007
Here's some advice for the thousands of Oakland County residents who are just now beginning to experience traffic roundabouts: Get used to them.
Soon they will do all of Oakland County. Well, maybe not real soon, but they will be occurring with increasing frequency as the years roll by. They are now being considered "any time we do an intersection," said Craig Bryson, public information officer for the Road Commission for Oakland County.
Two have opened in recent months on Maple Road, at the intersections of Drake and Farmington roads in West Bloomfield Township.
That brings to eight the number now functioning in the county. Two are on Cooley Lake Road in the Commerce-White Lake Township area, one at Bogie Lake Road and the other at Oxbow Lake Road. One is on the Commerce Loop Road in back of the shopping center off Haggerty Road near 14 Mile. Another is at the intersections of Baldwin, Indianwood and Coats roads in Orion Township. And two are in the Rochester-Rochester Hills area on Tienken Road Ñ one at Sheldon Road and another at Runyon and Washington roads.
Another roundabout is to open at 14 Mile and Farmington in 2008 and still another at Orchard Lake and 14 Mile, probably in 2010, both on the Farmington Hills-West Bloomfield Township border.
Communities do have a say in their placement.
"We're excited," Farmington Hills City Manager Steve Brock said. "We believe in the engineering that shows greater fuel economy and traffic flow," he said.
The fuel economy comes from fewer vehicle starts and stops.
"It's all good," Brock said concerning roundabouts. The new ones are close to his city's border, so many of his residents have used them.
One West Bloomfield resident said it used to take him up to 10 minutes to emerge from his subdivision off Maple, between Drake and Farmington roads, just to make it to the Maple-Farmington intersection during the morning rush hour. With the new roundabouts, the trip takes just four minutes, he said.
Bryson touts figures from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in support of roundabouts. There is a 90 percent reduction in fatalities, 70 percent fewer crashes with injuries and 37 percent fewer accidents overall where roundabouts exist in place of traditional intersections. Because roundabouts allow for the continuous flow of traffic in all directions, roads have more traffic capacity, permitting a bigger bang for the highway construction buck.
But not all voices are positive when it comes to roundabouts. "They have definitely improved the flow of traffic," West Bloomfield Supervisor David Flaisher said. "Numerous residents have commented that their commute is shorter." But he noted there has been an increase in accidents, although they are "extremely minor."
West Bloomfield Police Chief Ronald Cronin said there have been 36 accidents at the Maple-Drake roundabout since it opened around Sept. 1. There have been "three or four" at Farmington and Maple since it opened several weeks ago.
"We're getting better," Cronin said, but "many people don't know how to get off or get on. Older people are not used to merging."
Cronin thinks time may solve the problems, but Flaisher was seeking a meeting with county road commission personnel to see what improvements are possible.
"This was sold to us as a safety improvement. Why are there more accidents?" Flaisher asked.
Also, the new roundabouts are the target of a federal lawsuit filed by Farmington Hills attorney Richard Bernstein, who contends they discriminate against people who are blind, have low vision or use wheelchairs.
Indeed, the Federal Highway Administration has conceded that roundabouts do not have the same audible cues used by visually impaired pedestrians to cross stop-controlled and signalized intersections, and may require special design treatments to accommodate these users.
Bernstein expressed hope that an agreement can be reached with county officials to settle the case in an effort to avoid a wide-ranging verdict that could declare roundabouts illegal.
He suggested a pedestrian-activated stoplight system in which an audible beeping signal would enable visually impaired people to find a button to press to allow a crossing. It would then give an audible countdown telling a pedestrian how much time he or she has to cross.
This would be a "very effective, fair, workable remedy," Bernstein said. It would also make the intersections safer for children and senior citizens.
Although the United States was home to the first one-way rotary system in the world (built around New York City's Columbus Circle in 1904), traffic circles had fallen out of favor in this country by the 1950s, according to Alaskaroundabouts.com. Older traffic circles, located primarily in the northeastern states, encountered serious operational and safety problems, including the tendency to lock up at higher volumes. The modern roundabout, although following different design principles from those of the old circles, has been notably less popular in the United States than abroad, in part because of this country's experience with the traffic circles and rotaries built in the first half of the 20th century.
Since 1990, however, there has been an emergence of the modern roundabout in some parts of the United States. The strong interest is partially because of its success in several countries in Europe and in Australia, where the modern roundabout has changed the practice of intersection design.
The number of modern roundabouts in the United States is increasing rapidly. There were 1,000 as of January 2006, according to the organization RoundaboutsUSA.
Once people get used to them, roundabouts will likely prove irresistible, as Oakland County becomes a national leader in making use of them.
The term roundabout is used in the United States to differentiate it from the nonconforming traffic circles or rotaries that have been in use for many years, primarily in the Northeast. Modern roundabouts are defined by two basic operational and design principles:
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