Roundabout school

Seniors hear tips about navigating circular intersections

Roundabouts are a fact of life in the Marquette County area. This is the roundabout on U.S. 41 in Ishpeming. (Journal file photo)

MARQUETTE — Seniors learned a few things about roundabouts Tuesday at the Peter White Public Library:

• They’re not a socialist plot.

• They’re not part of a plan to turn the United States into Europe, their place of origin.

• They’re not the solution to all problems, including world peace.

• They’re not even the solution to all traffic problems.

They are, however, efficient tools to control traffic at intersections.

Dan Weingarten, communications representative with the Michigan Department of Transportation, spoke about roundabouts during a Tuesday presentation sponsored by the Northern Center for Lifelong Learning. Members of NCLL, based at Cohodas Hall at Northern Michigan University, plan informational educational programs on various topics.

A roundabout basically is a circular intersection.

“Traffic flows counterclockwise around the intersection, around the central island — no traffic signals or stop signs inside the roundabout at all,” Weingarten said. “The signs that you’ll see to control traffic when you come up will be yield signs on the approaches to the roundabout, but once you’re in the roundabout, you’re not going to be asked to stop or slow down at that point.”

Features of a roundabout include yield signs at the entry, landscaping, pedestrian access and crossing, and a slow but consistent speed.

What might confuse many motorists is simply getting into the roundabout. “You’ll see at the beginning of every modern roundabout the inflow of traffic is pushed to the right,” Weingarten said. “It’s very difficult — I’m not going to say impossible — but it’s very difficult to make a left-hand turn into one.”

Why the need for roundabouts? What was wrong with the former four-way stop signs/traffic signal intersections?

Weingarten said there are safety and operational advantages to roundabouts, although they’re not necessary everywhere.

At a traditional intersection, there are many more conflict points that could lead to accidents than there are at a roundabout.

Speed limits on roundabouts in Michigan range from 15 to 25 mph, he noted.

“There are still crashes in roundabouts, but they’re fender-benders,” Weingarten said. “They’re somebody’s side paneling getting scraped. They’re not a T-bone crash at a high rate of speed.”

There’s a convenience factor as well.

“We have intersections that have a lot of delays because you need lights that are red for too long to let side streets clear completely, and that’s causing people to wait a long time at particular lights,” Weingarten said. “Roundabouts can move more people through them than a signalized intersection.”

How many times have you stopped at an intersection with an active signal late at night, with everybody stopped on the highway and no traffic on the side street?

“If you were at a roundabout, you wouldn’t have stopped at all,” Weingarten said. “You would have come up to it, looked to your left. There’s nobody there. You would have proceeded through. So, they’re much more efficient at moving vehicles through, especially at non-peak hours because you’re controlling your own movement through this intersection.”

He pointed out too that roundabouts cost less to maintain since there’s no computerized hardware hanging from a cable over the roadway, which results in an estimated savings of $5,000 per year in electricity costs.

Environmental benefits, he said, include a reduction in fuel usage because less time is spent stopping, starting and idling.

Roundabouts also can transform into what would otherwise be a boring intersection into a parklike one.

A prime example is the roundabout at U.S. 41 and Front Street in the city of Marquette, which is filled with colorful flowers during the growing season.

“It really lets you know that you’ve arrived in Marquette,” Weingarten said.

If there’s a problem with motorists using roundabouts, it’s that they’re too timid, he said.

“Even when there’s no one in the intersection, they’re not confident enough to go out,” Weingarten said. “You should just wait until you have a clear path and go.”

MDOT has these tips for using a roundabout:

1. Slow down as you approach the roundabout.

2. Use the guide signs and lane designation markers to choose the appropriate lane for the intended destination.

3. Look for pedestrians and bicyclists as you approach the crosswalk.

4. Slow down as you approach the yield sign and look to the left to see if other vehicles are traveling within the roundabout.

5. Once there is an adequate gap in traffic, enter the roundabout. Do not stop or change lanes once in the roundabout.

6. As you approach the intended designation, signal your intent to exit. Look for pedestrians and bicyclists as you exit.

Regardless of whether people like roundabouts, they’re here to stay. The city of Marquette is creating roundabouts near the new UP Health System-Marquette hospital, which includes one at Grove Street and U.S. 41, as well as roundabouts on Wright Street at the intersections at Lincoln and Sugar Loaf avenues, and at Presque Isle and Fair avenues.

MDOT is considering roundabouts in 2019 for Marquette Township on U.S. 41, one at the intersection by Walmart and Target, and the other at Brickyard Road. MDOT also is working on a roundabout in 2018 in Sault Ste. Marie at the I-75 Business Spur and Mackinac Trail.

Marie Watanen, of Marquette, acknowledged she hasn’t driven through that many roundabouts.

That might change.

“I’m anticipating having to start using them,” Watanen said.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.