Drivers headed for the north gate of the Air Force Academy are getting a distinctly European experience this week as they tackle the biggest traffic circles in the Pikes Peak region.
They are two-lane affairs designed to speed drivers from Interstate 25 to the academy and North Gate Boulevard without stopping by replacing signals with roundabouts.
While they've been used in Europe for generations, the oldest traffic circles in the Pikes Peak region were installed less than a decade ago, and adding new ones is always likely to spark debate, said Sasan Delshad, a traffic engineer for the Colorado Department of Transportation.
"They don't hate them," Delshad said of roundabouts. "People resist them because they're not familiar with it."
Roundabouts are fairly straightforward. Drivers entering the circle must yield to drivers there. The key to survival is looking left.
"They do take a bit of getting used to," said Rick Orphan, traffic engineer with Fort Carson's Department of Public Works.
Fort Carson led the way for traffic circles on military bases in the region. The post got its first in 2004 on Nelson Boulevard near the post's main gate.
Orphan said traffic volume near the gate and a desire to avoid backups made the circle the post's best option.
The circles have big advantages.
Delshad said by replacing signals with circular path, roundabouts reduce crash risks significantly. Drivers slow down, and with traffic always moving counterclockwise, head-on crashes are eliminated.
"When accidents do happen, the types that happen in roundabouts are far less severe," he said. "We're talking about minor accidents compared to T-bones and fatalities."
Academy spokesman John Van Winkle said north gate traffic was fairly smooth Friday, the first day the academy's circles faced commuters.
"Traffic flow was there and it worked," Van Winkle said.
The academy has been preparing its drivers for roundabouts, including a list of rules emailed to workers Friday.
"Many drivers, cyclists and pedestrians have never seen or used a roundabout and the thought of navigating one may be intimidating," the roundabout brochure begins.
Orphan said Fort Carson drivers have learned to live with roundabouts.
"I think they adapted fairly quickly to them," he said.
Since building its first one, the post has added three more to deal with growth and increased traffic.
Delshad said roundabouts also save big bucks.
"The initial costs of roundabouts are a bit higher, yet the maintenance of maintaining that is almost zero," he said.
And once drivers get used to traffic circles, they want more of them, Delshad said.