FORT WAYNE — Drivers who say they don’t like roundabouts had better get used to them – there are many more of them on the way.
There are six roundabouts in the Fort Wayne area, but at least nine more are planned or being considered.
“We’re going to be a roundabout county,” Commissioner Linda Bloom said, adding that she loves the idea.
Drivers here have been negotiating roundabouts only for a little more than a decade, and the first ones were greeted with complaints.
But those gripes have gradually turned to acceptance and even appreciation where the roundabouts have replaced problem intersections, such as the former “spaghetti bowl” at Pontiac and Wayne Trace.
Bill Baranowski, a civil engineer in Salt Lake City who designs roundabouts and runs the website www.roundaboutsusa.com, said complains happen everywhere roundabouts are installed.
“Twenty years ago it was a big deal” when a roundabout was proposed, Baranowski said. “Now it’s not a big deal to have a couple roundabouts be installed in a city every year.”
He said there are about 3,400 roundabouts in the United States – a far cry from the 25,000 in the United Kingdom and 30,000 in France, but a lot considering the first was built in the U.S. in 1990.
He said most complaints generated by proposed roundabouts are just from a fear of the unknown.
“Take a poll, and before the project, people’s first reaction is 60 (percent) to 70 percent negative,” Baranowski said. “Once (the roundabout is) in, it’s 60 to 70 percent positive. Well how did that happen? Their preconceptions have been destroyed by how easy it is to use a roundabout.”
Roundabouts are similar to traffic circles but are smaller and require drivers to yield to traffic already in the roundabout. Officials like them because they move traffic efficiently and are safer than traffic signals.
Two of the most prominent roundabouts will be on Union Chapel Road, book-ending the new overpass and interchange at Interstate 69. The roundabouts will be used at the intersections with Auburn and Diebold roads.
Another will be the one planned for downtown Fort Wayne at Superior, Ewing, Fairfield and Wells streets.
“Typically, it is difficult to control a five-legged intersection, so a roundabout makes more sense there,” city traffic engineer Shan Gunawardena said.
They also work particularly well where one or two legs of the intersection have heavy traffic but other legs do not, which is what led to the roundabout on Coventry Lane in Aboite Township. The retirement community on the west side of the intersection was asking for a four-way-stop because residents were having trouble getting onto Coventry, Allen County Highway Director Bill Hartman said.
That’s the reason a roundabout is being considered for the intersection of Maysville and Stellhorn roads, Gunawardena said. Most of the traffic there is on the west leg of Stellhorn and the north leg of Maysville.
A roundabout would not only keep those busy legs moving, he said, but could do it without impeding access for the other legs.
“There’s not a balanced flow of traffic there,” Gunawardena said. “It’s an odd configuration of roads, but we could clean it up with a neat roundabout design.”
City officials are also considering a roundabout for a similar location just down the road, at the intersection of Maysville, Trier and Landin roads.
“That’s also right there where the cities of Fort Wayne and New Haven meet, so it also has a kind of gateway potential there,” he said. “It’s now a four-way-stop, but it’s approaching the criteria for a traffic signal, but we feel a roundabout would be more appropriate.”
Aesthetics are another factor – something proponents say no traffic signal will ever be able to replicate. Gunawardena uses the roundabout on Old Mill Road as an example.
“Before, it was just a wide expanse of pavement. Now it’s a rose garden,” he said. “With all that pavement, it was pretty much a free-for-all traffic-wise.
“Now it’s a smoother ride, there’s not as much traffic noise, and it’s an attractive feature for the neighborhood.”
Officials say roundabouts are also much safer. Baranowski’s website says studies show roundabouts reduce injury accidents as much as 76 percent.
“Typically, negotiating a roundabout is done at very low speed,” Gunawardena said. “So even if there is a crash, it’s a very low-speed crash.”
They’re also safer for pedestrians, because they have to watch for traffic from only one direction at a time.
Officials point out that they also work – unlike traffic lights after this summer’s wind storm – even when the power is out, have almost no maintenance costs and save fuel and reduce pollution from idling traffic waiting for a light to change.
As for the complaints, Gunawardena said acceptance is growing.
“Nobody knew anything about bike lanes a few years ago, either. Once they get used to it, it becomes second nature,” he said.
“As for the complaints, I don’t think people think they have trouble negotiating a roundabout, they think other people have trouble negotiating a roundabout.”