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posted: 5/15/2017 6:24 PM

Editorial: Roundabouts an intriguing option for intersection improvements

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  • Cars use the roundabout at River and Roberts roads in Lake Barrington. Experts say roundabouts have safety, traffic flow and environmental benefits.

    Cars use the roundabout at River and Roberts roads in Lake Barrington. Experts say roundabouts have safety, traffic flow and environmental benefits.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Roundabouts look odd, maybe even a little intimidating, the first time a driver pulls up to one.

There is no traditional intersection and there are no traffic signals or vehicles stopped and waiting for a green light to move forward. There's only a continuous flow of vehicles moving into the circle and out on one of its roadway spokes.

Get past the initial discomfort of constant movement, and the traffic circle can have a peaceful, almost orderly feel. More than that, experts say, it can be lifesaving.

The traffic circle is one of several highway changes -- adding rumble strips and widening shoulders are among others -- that AAA motor club is pushing in a study released last week.

Roundabouts are popular in Britain, but not so much here. The biggest hurdle to greater use of the traffic tool often is getting the motoring public and state and local government leaders to work past that unfamiliarity. But we're intrigued by the initial safety data, and encourage motorists to approach the roundabout with an open mind and a sense of confidence.

A handful of roundabouts are in place throughout the suburbs, and officials report they produce fewer injury accidents and better traffic flow. The combination of designs for merging and lower speeds prevents the high-speed broadside crashes and head-on collisions that can occur at traditional intersections. Proponents also say the lack of vehicles idling at stop lights reduces air pollution.

There are five roundabouts in Lake County, including one that opened in 2015 in Lake Barrington. Aurora officials installed one for $550,000 in 2016 at Highland Avenue and Sullivan Road at what previously was an all-way stop intersection.

"There's been only one crash in the first six months," Aurora Traffic Engineer Eric Gallt told our transportation writer Marni Pyke. He also said backups at the location have disappeared.

Transportation officials who oversaw roundabout projects in Lake and Kane counties in recent years said they've found that initial skepticism evaporates as drivers become more familiar with the configuration.

Roundabouts aren't a replacement for every traditional intersection and they have some disadvantages. Experts say they are more complicated to design and potentially can require more land acquisition than a typical intersection. Without a traffic signal, pedestrians also have to exercise more caution. And, there's that driver unfamiliarity thing to work through.

Roundabouts may have gotten a bad name in the United States from traffic circles built in the 1950s and 1960s known as "rotaries." In those designs, drivers had to yield to merging traffic. Modern versions require drivers entering the circle to yield.

With their apparent safety, traffic flow and environmental benefits, roundabouts seem destined to become a more common site in the suburbs. As the growing familiarity causes motorists' roundabout jitters to subside, perhaps in the long run that also will add a little peace of mind to the process of getting around.

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