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Colorado Springs plans more roundabouts, instead of traffic lights, at intersections

May 8, 2014 Updated: May 8, 2014 at 4:32 pm
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photo - Vehicles make their way around the new roundabout Tuesday, May 6, 2014, outside the north gate to the Air Force Academy.   (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
Vehicles make their way around the new roundabout Tuesday, May 6, 2014, outside the north gate to the Air Force Academy. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

Roundabouts, the circular intersection islands that replace stop signs and stoplights, are lauded by traffic engineers because they cost less and are safer than intersections with signal lights.

And it's a good thing drivers have slowly been getting used to them, because Colorado Springs plans to rely on more roundabouts.

At least 13 roundabouts are under consideration in the city, including seven in the fast-growing area northeast of Powers Boulevard and Briargate Parkway, according to city traffic maps.

The city already has 71 roundabouts.

MAP: Click here to see existing and proposed roundabouts.

Their popularity is growing with traffic engineers and developers largely because they're less expensive to build and maintain than traffic lights.

City officials said drivers like them, too.

"The residents like them. The developers like them, and we like them," said Tim Roberts, senior transportation planner for the city of Colorado Springs. "They are cheaper to build and cheaper to run."

They are also safer and reduce travel time, he said.

You don't have to wait for a green light, Roberts said. "They also reduce the nature of the crash should there be a crash," he said. "There's no T-bone or rear-end crash. If there's a crash, it's a sideswipe, so it's less severe."

According to a report by the Federal Highway Administration, there are about 300,000 intersections with signals in the United States.

About 2,300 people are killed each year at these intersections - about a third of all intersection fatalities in the U.S.

Another 700 are killed each year by drivers running red lights.

Converting a signalized intersection to a roundabout can result in a 78 percent drop in crashes involving injuries or fatalities and a 48 percent reduction in crashes overall, the report says.

Roundabouts aren't new in Colorado Springs.

The first modern roundabouts in Colorado were built here in the late 1980s, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. A few are located on Lake Avenue between Nevada Avenue and The Broadmoor.

Nationwide, there are about 3,700 roundabouts, according to RoundaboutsUSA.com, a website devoted to the history and progress of the traffic tool.

France has the most roundabouts in the world - more than 30,000, according to the website.

"They're gaining popularity in the United States," said Bill Baranowski, president of Roundabouts USA. "The first 10 years or so, from about 1990 to 2000, there were 10 to 30 a year built. Now you see about 400 to 500 new roundabouts a year in the USA."

It doesn't hurt that they cost less than installing stoplights.

Baranowski estimated that a single-lane roundabout costs about half as much as a signal intersection once all of rights of way have been purchased for a signal intersection.

Not all roundabouts are flawless, though.

A two-lane roundabout on South Carefree Circle confused drivers when it was built and resulted in plenty of crashes, Roberts said.

The roundabout allows drivers to exit on multiple roadways or to complete the circle.

"We were having crash problems there," Roberts said. "The original design missed the boat. It was too small for two lanes. With two lanes you need a little more space to make decisions."

He did not know how many crashes occurred at the original roundabout.

The roundabout was modified after testing to determine the best and safest design. It now accommodates one lane of traffic.

Roundabouts have been around for decades. The modern design came from the United Kingdom, and they are far more common in Europe and Asia.

"The United States is kind of late to the game on this," Roberts said. "But they are implemented all over the world."

U.S. drivers are learning to navigate them.

"They are a great alternative to a signal," Roberts said. "So where we have one- or two-lane approaches to an intersection, where a signal would be warranted and where there's potential for crashes, we would look at building one."

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ALL ABOUT ROUNDABOUTS

For more information about roundabouts in Colorado Springs, go to: springsgov.com/Page.aspx?NavID=3672

The site includes a map and rules for the road.

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