Loving the roundabout
It's been a little more than month since Alexandria's second roundabout opened, and so far, traffic is humming along smoothly, according to Douglas County Public Works Director Dave Robley.
"The response has been overwhelmingly positive. The vast majority I've heard from love it," he said. "I know the more I drive through it, the more I like it."
No crashes have been reported since it opened just before Labor Day.
The roundabout, designed to help traffic flow and promote safety, is at the intersection of County Roads 23 and 46, also known as Hazel Hill Road and South McKay Avenue, southeast of Alexandria. It's east of the traffic lights at Pioneer Road and County Road 46 and in between two high traffic areas — Alexandria Area High School and Woodland Elementary School.
Hank Wessel, who has been a bus driver for Alexandria School District 206 since 2001, said the roundabout works wells and has "improved safety a lot." Wessel drives through the roundabout at least twice a day on his bus route. Wessel, who used to live on the East Coast where roundabouts are more common, said traffic isn't backed up anymore and runs more smoothly.
Robley said that with roundabouts, traffic flow is steady, whereas traffic can get backed up when it comes to stop signs or stoplights. In a roundabout, traffic isn't supposed to stop, there are no delays and motorists just keep going, Robley said.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation says roundabouts offer better fuel efficiency and better air quality. When a roundabout replaces traffic signals, idling times decrease, which reduces vehicle emissions and fuel consumption by 30 percent or more.
Before opening the roundabout, Robley said about 50 percent of the people he spoke with who were against it had actually never driven in a roundabout. And now that it is open, he said, most of that 50 percent who have driven through the roundabout actually like it and find it simple to use.
Robley said that roundabouts are far less complicated and safer than a four-way stop or stop lights because there is less movement. When motorists come to a four-way stop, for example, he said there are six to nine "moving parts" in that intersection.
In a roundabout, however, motorists need to basically worry about one "movement" as they are entering and then when they exit, he said. Essentially, the traffic is moving in the same direction.
Alexandria's first roundabout opened nearly two years ago on Highway 29 south of Interstate 94.
Roundabouts show a 89 percent decrease in fatal crashes, a 74 percent decrease in life-altering injury crashes and a 39 percent decrease in all crashes, according to MnDOT.
Navigating the circle
Here are some things MnDOT says pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers need to know about navigating through a roundabout:
• Cross only at crosswalks, and always stay on the designated walkways.
• Never cross to the central island.
• Cross the roundabout one approach at a time. Use the median island as a halfway point where you can check for approaching traffic.
• Ride with traffic inside the roundabout or use the crosswalks appropriately.
• Follow the same rules as vehicles when riding with traffic and yield when entering the roundabout. Since traffic is slower inside the roundabout, cyclists should be able to travel at or near the same speed as motorists, staying in line with the circulating traffic.
• Slow down when approaching a roundabout. For multi-lane roundabouts, as with any intersection, get into the appropriate lane.
• Yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk. It is the law.
• Yield to vehicles already in the roundabout. Merge into the traffic flow when it is safe.
• Continue through the roundabout until you reach your exit. Do not stop or pass in a roundabout.
• Exit the roundabout immediately if an emergency vehicle approaches, and then pull over. Do not stop in the roundabout.
• Give large trucks extra space in a roundabout. Large trucks may straddle both lanes while driving through a multi-lane roundabout.
For more information about roundabouts, visit the transportation department's website at www.dot.state.mn.us/roundabouts/index.html.
Do I need to signal?
It is recommended to signal your exit, but signaling as you enter isn't required because you can only go right. Signaling your exit gives a driver entering at that location information as to where you're going, according to Public Works Director Dave Robley.
Minnesota state law, according to Sgt. Jesse Grabow with the Minnesota State Patrol, says a vehicle exiting a roundabout is exempt from normal turn signal rules and signaling is not required. Grabow's recommendation, however, would be to use a signal anytime you're changing lanes or direction, to alert others of your intention.