Originally created 11/26/05

Residents ask for roundabouts

Slow and steady wins the race for more than just the tortoise.Roundabouts, or traffic circles, are quickly becoming known as safer, smoother traffic alternatives to traditional signalled intersections.

Hoping to jump on the bandwagon, a number of residents involved with transportation planning for the area are pushing for the addition of roundabouts.

Citizens Advisory Committee Chairman Eric Schumacher, for one, is asking local decision makers to look to Aiken, which has three traffic circles in its downtown alone, and a single-lane traffic circle near its mall.

His suggestion is the conversion of the intersection of Wheeler and Aumond roads, once considered but not yet acted on with regards to roundabouts, and the conversion of the intersection of Stevens Creek and Evans to Locks roads.

"People are slowing down there anyway," he said, explaining that a traffic circle would, therefore, be logical. "And that way you'll get better flow.

"Long used in Europe, roundabouts are just starting to catch on in the United States.According to Richard Retting, a senior transportation engineer for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, while France boasts a whopping 20,000 traffic circles and England a mighty 10,000, the United States has at the most between 800 and 1,000, all built within the past decade.

The apparent reluctance to use traffic circles here is not because they don't work, he said.His institute's studies over the past five years conclusively show that these specialized circles reduce crashes with injury by as much as 80 percent and delays in traffic by up to 75 percent.

"All the basic measures that engineers use to judge intersections improve when roundabouts are installed," Mr. Retting said. "It's hard to justify not installing them. It would be as if there was a vaccine out for a particular disease and health officials were not making it public.

"The key is that roundabouts enable all cars at a busy corner to move slowly but continuously, without delay; by forcing stops and alternating the movement of cars, traditional intersections are less efficient, his findings state.

That has certainly been the case in Aiken, where Advisory committee member Marianne Pecoraro said there was resistance to sprinkling the traffic circles around the city a few years ago; now residents see them as beneficial to traffic flow."It looks better, requires less maintenance, electricity," she said. "It's been a success.

"On average, it doesn't cost any more to build a roundabout, and often the price tag is lower since workers don't need to install or maintain the traffic signals, according to Mr. Retting."It varies from location to location," he said. "But if you're building an intersection from scratch, a roundabout will many times be a cost saver."

Reach Dena Levitz at (706) 823-3339 or dena.levitz@augustachronicle.com.

By the numbers

1905: Year the first traffic circle was installed in the U.S.

20: Speed roundabouts are designed for cars to travel on in miles per hour

1,000: Approximate number of roundabouts in this country

6,000: Number of hours of vehicle delays a roundabout eliminates annually

265,000: Number of signalled intersections in the United States

$150,000: Estimated cost to install a traffic lightSource: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Institute of Transportation Engineers