You dont usually think of going in circles as being progress, but
thats definitely the case when it comes to a plan to introduce
roundabouts to the highways of Northern Michigan.
A roundabout is a traffic circle that does away with the need for
traffic lights. Instead, traffic flows in a slow, consistent speed
through the intersection, yielding to cars inside the circle.
Roundabouts save lives, cut fuel expenses, and end the aggravation of
sitting at a red light. Whats not to like?
At a recent Traverse City Commission study session, supporters cheered
a plan to add up to five roundabouts along Division Street in town, a
notorious speedway traversed by up to 33,000 vehicles per day that is
unsafe for both motorists and pedestrians.
The Division Design Initiative, created by traffic-calming specialists
the URS Corporation, with input by the City of Traverse City, is an
imaginative plan that would do away with several traffic lights along
roughly a mile of the highway. In their place would be small
roundabouts fronted by yield signs, allowing traffic to flow through
at a slow but steady pace.
Skeptics of the plan should try driving down Division at rush hour
during the summer, at which time traffic is backed up for half a mile
or more, waiting for the light to change at 14th Street. Roundabouts
are said to cut traffic waiting time by 65%.
One supporter of the plan is Ray Minervini, developer of the Grand
Traverse Commons, just west of Division.
Minervini just got back from vacationing in Reggio Emilia in northern
Italy, a town of approximately 120,000 people which doesnt have a
single traffic light because theyve all been replaced by roundabouts.
You can drive all over town and never stop for a traffic light, he
says. Its fantastic.
Europe is far ahead of the United States in the roundabout revolution.
Both England and France have roughly 30,000 roundabouts in place. By
contrast, there are about 2,000 in the United States -- one of which
happens to be in Gaylord.
Minervini is especially supportive of roundabouts on Division Street
because the Grand Traverse Commons and its Village at Building 50 is
booming with new business and residents. Taken along with the growth
of neighboring Munson Medical Center, traffic pressure is being pushed
to the breaking point in the area.
Coincidentally, two of the most dangerous intersections in Traverse
City are just off the Commons development: at 14th and Division and
11th and Division.
I recall a popular, good-hearted co-worker from Munson Medical Center
who was killed at the intersection of 14th and Division years ago. If
roundabouts had been in place then, perhaps she would still be alive,
because they prevent the possibility of motorists speeding through the
intersection, resulting in the kind of T-bone collisions that kill
thousands of people each year in our country.
Statistics show a dramatic decrease in traffic injuries and fatalities
wherever roundabouts are established. The Netherlands installed 400
roundabouts in the 1980s and saw traffic fatalities drop by 72%. In
Carmel, Indiana, traffic accidents decreased by 78% with the addition
of roundabouts seven years ago.
Roundabouts save money as well as lives: Carmel reports that the cost
of constructing a roundabout is $125,000 less than what it takes to
create an intersection with a traffic light.
In terms of saving on fuel costs, its estimated that even a modest
increase in the use of roundabouts in the United States would save
twice as much gasoline as drilling for offshore oil, according to an
organization called Designs for America. Carmel, IN, reports a savings
of 24,000 gallons of gasoline per year at each of its roundabouts as
the result of less car idling. The State of Virginia claims that its
10 roundabouts save 200,000 gallons of gas per year.
The roundabouts being considered for Traverse City are different from
the large-scale rotary circles found in Boston and Massachusetts,
which have earned some justified criticism. Our roundabouts would be
smaller, slower and safer.
It takes some getting used to, but you only have to drive through a
roundabout once to get the idea, Minervini says.
The Michigan Department of Transportation would have the final say in
whether roundabouts will be incorporated into a plan to improve
Division Street. MDOT has already constructed roundabouts in Benton
Harbor, Muskegon, Sterling Heights, Saginaw and other cities and plans
to build more. We can only hope that with strong support from
Traverse City and many organizations ranging from the County Road
Commission to TART Trails and Munson Medical Center, that roundabouts
will get the green light here as well.