Roundabouts

So last night my husband and I went to the movies whilst on vacation here in Appleton, Wisconsin. It really isn't odd for us to go to the movies while on vacation; we like to see how movie theatres might differ from what we are used to at home and I like to compare picture and sound quality and the like.  We watched "The Way Way Back". Good movie.

Prior to the previews and the actual picture was a bunch of advertisements. Sprinkled amongst these ads was a spot from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. The ad focused on roundabouts.  If you're not familiar with a roundabout, it's basically the replacement of a traffic signal. The roundabout encourages slow traffic movements and is easier on the environment (less emissions for needless stopping for a traffic signal during low traffic conditions) and is more aesthetically pleasing for the neighborhood. While very popular in Europe, I believe roundabouts have only started appearing in the U.S. in full force over the past decade or so, and even then the implementation has been hit or miss.

The roundabouts in our native Upstate New York are fairly rare but are now being introduced at a hurried pace. Since we do have a few Traffic Circles from the 60s, people in our area tend to treat roundabouts the same way: punch the gas, close your eyes and go. It's much like the behavior I have experienced on Massachusetts Rotaries.  Roundabouts are not designed for this. The rules are simple:

1.  Stick to the speed limit, usually 15-25 MPH.
2.  Yield to traffic coming from your left.
3.  Pay attention to lane markings and signs so you know what lane you're suppose to be in when you enter the roundabout.

It's really a simple concept when you get the hang of it and the Wisconsin DOT does a fantastic job of explaining this in the ad that we saw last night and on their web site at http://dot.wi.gov/safety/motorist/roaddesign/roundabouts/index.htm.

As I drove up US Route 41 from Oshkosh to Appleton, I noticed that the fairly new freeway included quite a few roundabouts at the interchanges. This is a brilliant approach: why put up a traffic signal when traffic counts might not warrant the expense but why risk stop signs for traffic that could be turning onto a higher speed rural road. The roundabout is a brilliant fix (and it helps with "traffic calming").

I'm happy to see that WisDOT is taking the initiative to implement roundabouts and that they're being proactive in their education of the public.  I hope other states follow their lead.

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