Drivers fear them until they get used to them.
Some, however, never seem to get accustomed to how they work. Whenever the topic of a new roundabout pops up on the Echo Press Facebook page, many readers are quick to lambast the idea. They call roundabouts confusing, a waste of money or too narrow for trucks to maneuver through. They worry about getting sideswiped or cut-off.
Some even avoid driving through them altogether, finding another way to get through that side of town.
Instead of loathing or fearing them, drivers should be aware of how to handle them. They should also realize that roundabouts are not some sort of devilish plot to confuse drivers. They have advantages.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation says that roundabouts are safer and produce better traffic flow. Roundabouts show an 86 percent decrease in fatal crashes, an 83 percent decrease in life-altering injury crashes, and a 42 percent overall decrease in the injury crash rate at intersections.
Roundabouts also handle high levels of traffic with less delay than most stop signs or signals, according to safety experts.
One other benefit: When roundabouts replace signals, they reduce idling time, which, in turn, reduces vehicle emissions and fuel consumption by 30 percent or more.
Roundabouts, however, are not a silver bullet for solving every traffic snarl, and in some instances, they could create more problems than they solve. The latest suggestion from a firm hired by MnDOT recommends placing a multi-lane roundabout at the intersection of Third Avenue and Highway 29, near Elden's Fresh Foods in Alexandria.
While the firm's study showed it would reduce delays 50 percent, we're still not convinced it's the best option and neither is the public. A survey showed residents are split on the issue, with 52 percent favoring a roundabout there.
Fortunately, there's time to mull over the options. Actual work on the project is expected to start for at least six years. MnDOT has shown a cooperative spirit toward installing future roundabouts in our area. A spokesperson told the Douglas County Board that the state "won't ramrod something through" and that it is going to take a lot of effort, planning and coming together of all involved parties.
In the meantime, drivers should brush-up on their roundabout driving skills. In his "Ask a Trooper" column, State Trooper Jesse Grabow provided some simple steps for drivers to safely navigate through a roundabout. It's timely advice for the busy summer season ahead:
• Slow down when approaching a roundabout and obey the recommended posted speed limits.
• For multi-lane roundabouts, as with any intersection, get into the appropriate lane and signal prior to your lane change.
• 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.
This summer promises to be a hectic one in our area with plenty of construction taking place on local streets and out on Interstate 94. There are construction zones to watch for, new drivers from out of town sharing the roads and the usual rush of weekend traffic from people itching to hit the lakes.
But don't fear the roundabouts. They are designed to help - not hamper - our busy flow of traffic.