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Roundabouts will get big test Tuesday

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
May 18, 2008
— Janesville’s first major roundabout will get its first workout when Menards opens Tuesday.

Jack Messer, public works director, isn’t worried.


Messer has championed roundabouts since he moved here from Kansas in 2005.


Messer has been watching the single-lane roundabout off Morse Street since it opened in October.


So far, so good, Messer said.


A second roundabout also opened in October at Sandhill and Sandstone drives, but that gets little use because it is located in a new development.


The Menards roundabout, on the other hand, is the gateway to a development off Milton Avenue and near Interstate 90/39 that includes Menards and Del Taco and is expected to get busier in the future.


Sometimes, Messer simply stands off to the side and watches traffic move, especially since Del Taco opened. Mostly, he drives through and tries to watch trucks as they navigate the roundabout.


Trucks handle it just fine, Messer said. He’s seen them take it at 20 mph, and many do not even have to use the truck apron.


Roundabouts have proven themselves over the two decades they’ve been used in the United States, Messer said.


They can handle more traffic than signals and do it more safely, he said. Crashes and injuries are reduced because traffic is slowed and conflict points are reduced.


A roundabout eliminates all left turns.


“We’ve not only reduced the number of decisions you have to make, but (we’ve) slowed the speeds down in which you have to make them.


“Roundabouts are relatively new in terms of transportation, and they’re an exciting thing for a traffic engineer because they get at safety,” Messer said. “At the same time, you don’t compromise efficiency.


“You have the best of both worlds.”


Residents seem to be more accepting of roundabouts if they are built as parts of overall developments rather than retrofitted into existing areas, Messer said.


Any advice on navigating a roundabout?


It’s made to be simple, and it is simple, Messer said.


As you approach the roundabout, yield, find a gap in the traffic and get in. Get out when you’re ready to get out, he said.


“I’ve seen people who are very, very cautious the first time they drive it. By the third and fourth times, they understand it well, and they move through just fine.”


Messer is like a kid showing off his new Lego creation when he talks about roundabouts.


When City Manager Steve Sheiffer challenged him to solve the problems at Five Points—multiple streets come together at a railroad crossing—Messer came up with an elevated roundabout as one solution.


“I’m excited that we have introduced the (roundabout) concept to Janesville in a relatively high-profile place,” Messer said.


“I think it will function well, and I think it will add some aesthetic value to the development.”


Roundabout advantages

Jack Messer, public works director, says roundabouts are:


-- Safe. Traffic flows one way around a central island, reducing the number of decisions that a driver must make.


“You only have to worry about looking in one direction,” Messer said.


Conflict points are reduced. A normal intersection has 32 collision points, or different ways to run into different vehicles. A roundabout has eight.


Modern roundabouts have been in the United States for 18 years, and traffic engineers have gathered data showing they reduce crashes by 60 to 75 percent, Messer said.


Speeds are reduced to about 20 mph. Even if there is an accident, it is likely no one will be hurt. Injury accidents are reduced by 90 percent, Messer said.


-- Efficient. It may seem counterintuitive that slowing traffic increases efficiency, Messer acknowledged, but the slower speeds allow people to make better decisions.


“You squeeze every bit of efficiency out of a roundabout” by getting more cars through in a fixed amount of time than at intersections where traffic is stopped by a signal or sign.


-- Environmentally friendly. Vehicles use less fuel getting through the intersection, so they release fewer emissions. A roundabout uses no electricity. Messer believes it is prettier than a traffic signal, and the center can be landscaped.



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