Seeing more roundabouts in Oregon? There’s a good reason why

PORTLAND, Ore. (KGW) — There are nearly 9,000 roundabouts in the U.S., according to the Federal Highway Administration. The Oregon Department of Transportation maintains 15 roundabouts on state roads, and some cities — Bend in particular — have dozens.

But roundabouts are new to some drivers, and that newness is why we land on roundabouts for our latest installment of Driving Me Crazy. That, and it just so happens that this week is National Roundabouts Week — yes, there’s a week for everything.

Roundabouts are fairly simple: yield when entering, signal upon exiting. Multi-lane roundabouts require a little additional maneuvering into the proper lane. Despite the simplicity, they take some getting used to.

“I do see some confusion,” said Chuck Hanson, filling up his tank at the Safeway Fuel Station on Highway 213 in Molalla. “A lot of pulling up and just waiting, like they were at a stop sign.”

There used to be stop signs on Toliver Road, where it crosses Highway 213 in Molalla. ODOT just finished building a roundabout at one of the busiest intersections in town. Nearly 13.000 vehicles pass through here every day. Ninety percent of that traffic is traveling north or southbound on the highway — which means if you were one of 1,400 or so drivers crossing from Toliver Road before the roundabout came in, you often had to wait.

“Fifteen to 20 minutes,” said another driver who spoke to KGW, Susanne. “Cars would be lined up from this intersection, all the way up to the elementary school,” referring to Molalla Elementary, a half-mile to the east. And since the roundabout opened last month, “It’s an easier entrance in and out, and I don’t have to fight traffic anymore.”

There’s also an environmental benefit to better traffic flow.

“By keeping traffic moving and not having folks idling as much in traffic, you have less emissions coming from vehicles,” said ODOT’s Kacey Davey.

A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety suggests that if 10% of the signalized intersections in the U.S. were converted to roundabouts, Americans would have reduced vehicle delays by more than 981 million hours and fuel consumption by more than 654 million gallons in 2018 alone.

But more than fuel economy or better commute times, safety is biggest driving factor for building roundabouts.

“I just can’t stress enough how much safer they are as an option for intersections compared to signals,” said Davey. She referred to a report from the FHA citing a 35% reduction in all crashes, a 76% reduction in injury crashes and a more than 90% reduction in fatalities at intersections with roundabouts.

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