Roundabouts and Traffic Circles in Louisiana
A new roundabout is coming to Alexandria, Louisiana, and with it a lot of questions. The hope is to improve traffic congestion at the intersection of Jackson Street and Horseshoe Drive. There can be considerable confusion about roundabouts and traffic circles. Some people even say that they don’t work in the South – particularly here in Louisiana.
First, let’s look at the differences between a roundabout and a traffic circle.
Alexandria “South Traffic Circle” at MacArthur Drive and Masonic Drive
The first traffic circle in the United States used for traffic control was Columbus Circle in New York, which opened in 1905. Traffic circles are circular or elliptical islands, with a central island 300 to 600 feet wide. They are designed for vehicles to enter, merge, circulate, change lanes and exit at relatively high speeds — 30 to 50 mph. Early in the 20th century vehicle speeds were slower, drivers were patient and traffic volumes were low. Circles were an efficient and relatively safe form of traffic control. As vehicle speeds and traffic volume increased, congestion and crashes have increased significantly. The “South Traffic Circle” is an example of a traffic circle that has become more dangerous over the years as traffic in Alexandria has increased. We see many motor vehicle accidents in this location, often with the minor to moderate injuries.
Alexandria “England Airpark” at England Drive and Vandenberg Drive
The first roundabout in America was built in 1992 in Gainesville. Traffic circles and roundabouts use a similar circular design, but they operate very differently. Roundabouts are designed as small as possible and operate at 15 mph to 25 mph, while traffic circles are very large and designed for a higher speed. If done properly, there should be little to no stopping of traffic entering the roundabout.
Extensive studies have found that operating speeds are 9 mph to 16 mph in peak periods and 16 mph to 23 mph in off-peak periods. The design of roundabouts forces drivers to slow as they approach them, then limits drivers’ circulating and exit speed. It is difficult to pass through a well-designed roundabout above these speeds, because of the sharper turns and circumference of the circles. Modern roundabouts force drivers to slow, select a gap in the traffic, and then enter at the speed the roundabout traffic is going. Studies have shown that roundabouts increase the intersection traffic capacity by 30 percent, with fewer delays. They also improve pedestrian safety and reduce pedestrian delays compared with intersections with traffic lights.
This is what we would hope for the roundabout coming to the intersection at Jackson and Horseshoe. This is one of the most dangerous intersections in Alexandria, with a four-way stop and two lanes coming from Jackson Street that often confuse drivers. Many accidents at this intersection lead to mild injuries and most often property damage.
A study done by Per Gardner at the University of Maine found that traffic circles have 3.5 to 6.5 times more crashes than roundabouts. Due to safety concerns and increasing congestion, many traffic circles have been replaced with roadways and traffic signals. Traffic circles are a leftover from years ago, the last design reference to traffic circles in the U.S. design standards was in 1965 and the design has not been updated since. In contrast, roundabouts have demonstrated that they reduce injury crashes by 75 percent compared with signalized intersections, and they reduce traffic fatalities by 90 percent compared with signalized intersections.
From a legal standpoint, accidents in traffic circles are often complicated by improper lane usage. With failure to yield, speeding and other infractions making liability difficult to determine. Accidents can occur while entering or exiting the traffic circle and rear-end and sideswipe collisions are likely to occur anywhere on the circle. Oftentimes little to no experience with traffic circles are to blame. Injuries, depending on speed and location of an accident may not actually be clear until hours after the accident occurs.
If you have been involved in a traffic accident on a traffic circle or roundabout, it is important to contact an experienced attorney to protect your rights.