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updated: 5/8/2017 9:08 AM

Can roundabouts save lives? Yes, and so can rumble strips, AAA says

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  • Cars use the roundabout at River Road and Roberts Road in Lake Barrington. Despite some early trepidation from drivers and nearby residents, there have been few complaints about the roundabout since it opened.

    Cars use the roundabout at River Road and Roberts Road in Lake Barrington. Despite some early trepidation from drivers and nearby residents, there have been few complaints about the roundabout since it opened.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

 
 

How many lives could a combination of rumble strips, sidewalks, medians and roundabouts save? AAA puts the number at 63,700 over 20 years in a thought-provoking study released last week.

To put that in perspective, 35,092 Americans died in traffic crashes in 2015, up 7 percent from 2016. In Illinois, there were 1,061 fatalities in 2016, a spike of 6 percent from 2015.

Doing nothing "is effectively a death sentence for American motorists," AAA spokeswoman Beth Mosher said. The motorist association wants the Trump administration, along with states and municipalities, to get cracking on "cost-effective" roadway improvements to the tune of $146 billion.

Traffic fatalities and injuries in the U.S. could drop by 30 percent with intersection improvements, such as roundabouts, AAA's Traffic Safety Foundation projects.

Other lifesavers include widening shoulders, medians separating traffic, wider lane markings, rumble strips that alert drivers when they're weaving, sidewalks, left-turn lanes, and eliminating roadside fixed objects, such as poles.

Circling back to roundabouts -- the design popular in Great Britain isn't that widespread across the pond, but suburbs in Kane, Lake and McHenry counties are seeing a growth spurt.

"There is evidence roundabouts significantly reduce the severity of crashes at intersections," Aurora Traffic Engineer Eric Gallt said. The combination of lower speeds and merging prevents high-speed broadside crashes or head-on collisions occurring at conventional intersections, he said.

The city installed one in 2016 at Highland Avenue and Sullivan Road at an all-way stop intersection for $500,000.

"There's been only one crash in the first six months," Gallt said, and backups at the location have disappeared.

But do suburban drivers adapt well to roundabouts?

In western Kane County, where a roundabout opened last fall at Route 47 and Burlington Road, "folks were skeptical before and during construction but to be honest those phone calls have stopped," Kane County Transportation Director Steven Coffinbarger said.

Roundabouts might have gotten a bad name in the U.S. from traffic circles built in the 1950s and 1960s known as "rotaries" on the East Coast, Gallt said, where drivers are required to yield to merging traffic, which is problematic.

Modern roundabouts require drivers entering the circle to yield.

Lake Barrington was blessed with a roundabout at Roberts Road and River Road last year.

At first, "naysayers say, 'It's not going to work,' and the general population goes into it with fear and trepidation," Lake County Board Member Craig Taylor said. "Once they're in place, people get used to them and change their tune."

The grandfather of all suburban traffic circles is Cumberland Circle, built in the 1920s in Des Plaines where Golf and Wolf roads and Northwest Highway converge. Locals used to its quirks know how to navigate it and can spot the rookies right away.

The vintage design, however, won't be around much longer. Construction to transform the ugly duckling into a full-fledged roundabout should start this year.

Got an opinion on roundabouts? Other traffic fixes? Drop me an email at mpyke@dailyherald.com.

Your voice

Except for the Illinois tollway, no one's undecided on whether to extend Route 53 -- or not. Sam Frushour of Hawthorn Woods thinks "it's very clear that people who stand to benefit from the construction and operation of the tollway are the primary backers of it.

"Hawthorn Woods' entire appeal is nature and space. Wildlife is abundant," he wrote. "We pay high property taxes to live here and we love it, not the taxes but the place. If we ever had to move, who would want to buy our house with a toll road running next to it? Let me think ... no one comes to mind."

Gridlock alert

Sorry, Naperville. You can expect daily lane closures on Ogden Avenue between Royal Street/George Drive and Benedetti Drive now through this summer as IDOT crews repair a culvert over Cress Creek.

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