I recently returned from a trip to Uganda and Kenya where I was impressed with how frequently roundabouts were used as opposed to traffic signals. It struck me that in an up-and-coming third world country, where resources aren’t alway readily available but traffic is increasing, a roundabout is a cost effective way to provide a level of control, as well as an improved level of safety, on the streets.
Roundabouts should be employed here in Fort Collins more often than they are, not only to improve safety on our roads, but also as a means of saving money and reducing our global footprint.
There are many new roundabouts on the south end of town in new developments. And there are a few places on the north side of town where 4-way stops or street lights have been replaced with a roundabout. But it might be worth thinking about increasing the number of “stop light to roundabout” conversions.
Roundabouts Are Cheaper to Build and Operate than Signalized Intersections
Initial construction costs for a roundabout are comparable to the initial costs of building a signalized intersection. This is likely one reason why they’re fairly popular in new developments. It costs a bit more to retrofit an existing intersection with a roundabout. But once the roundabout it built, it generally lasts longer than a signalized intersection. (Federal Highway Administration)
When it comes to ongoing costs, the roundabout is the clear winner. Stop lights require electricity as well as regular maintenance. Roundabouts do require some maintenance (especially if there are plantings in the center of the roundabout or signage has been knocked about during use), but there’s no ongoing energy use (which makes roundabouts the clear winner during an electrical outage as well). The Washington State Department of Transportation estimates that a signalized light costs taxpayers about $8,000 a year. And this doesn’t include costs to motorists as they use gasoline while waiting for the light to change.
Roundabouts Are Safer than Signalized Intersections, which Reduces Costs
There are several studies that show that roundabouts are safer than signalized intersections. According to the Federal Highway Administration, a roundabout offers eight potential vehicle to vehicle points of conflict and eight potential vehicle to pedestrian points of conflict. Compare that to a signalized intersection where there are 32 vehicle to vehicle potential points of conflict and 24 vehicle to pedestrian points of conflict.
Not only that, but in a roundabout, traffic is all headed in the same direction, reducing the overall impact when there is a collision (compared to signalized intersections where traffic is often oncoming or crossing paths). With far fewer deaths, and less serious injuries, police and medical personal spend less time on scene, individuals spend less on repairs, and families (and their insurance) spend less on medical expenses.
Roundabouts Are Better for the Environment, which Reduces Costs
Roundabouts are better for the environment for two main reasons. There’s no electricity required to operate a roundabout. And because roundabouts move more traffic during the same amount of time as a signalized intersection, less fuel is wasted by idling vehicles while drivers wait for the light to change. And with less electricity being used, as well as less gasoline being used, there are fewer pollutants in the air to trigger asthma and other respiratory diseases, which in turn saves in medical expenses and lost work days.
Tell the City that You’d Like to See More Roundabouts
If you’re interested in saving tax dollars, reducing your personal expenses, breathing cleaner air, and decreasing your chances of dying in an intersection, then let the City know that you’d like to see more roundabouts.
Right now City staff are in the process of rewriting City Plan — the guiding document for how we grow and shape our community over the next twenty years. There will be neighborhood meetings, community meetings, online surveys and other ways to get involved. Sign up for updates using the link above or watch for announcements in the Coloradoan. Bringing up ideas such as wanting more roundabouts is exactly the kind of feedback that staff will be looking for this year as they seek input on what kind of Fort Collins we want to live in over the next two decades.
Here’s another article that compares the cost of roundabouts and signalized intersections.