Roundabouts expand in Oregon

By Nike Kern,

As traffic congestion and high fuel costs continue to become a hot topic though out our state, the use of roundabouts are beginning to be more widely discussed and implemented by city planners and traffic specialists. The innovative concept has once again found its way back into the mindsets of Americans who enjoy the effectiveness and safety of using traffic circles.

The roundabout concept was first invented in the early 1900’s and is highly successful throughout Europe and several America cities and communities. Cities like New York, Washington and Baltimore find roundabouts quite effective while they are even showing up in smaller communities throughout Vermont, South Carolina, Georgia, and, Oregon. In the Portland suburb of Newberg, a roundabout has been built in a key intersection to offer drivers the ease to move through a new section of town that currently offers residential and mixed-use commercial businesses as well as a new spa hotel slated for next year. “The roundabout allows me the ability to move freely through a intersection that would most likely be bottlenecked and time consuming,” says Suzanne Behrands, a Newberg resident. “I would support our city planners in adding more roundabouts throughout Newberg, specifically, where Highway 99 West and the Dundee community meets.”

During the 1950’s there was a set back in the use of roundabouts nationwide but it now appears the mindset has changed as drivers better understand the concept. Drivers seem to enjoy the ability to keep moving without the nuisance of a stoplight that in some overly busy intersections may cause back ups, driver frustration and accidents. In 1966, the offside priority rule (an entering vehicle gives way to vehicles in the roundabout) and the yield at entry operation enhanced roundabout capacity and safety performance when using a roundabout.

The Oregon Department of Transportation has studied the roundabout concept and found that the circles offer fewer conflict points, no left-turn accidents, simple decision-making is evident at entry points, slower relative speeds of all vehicles in the conflict area and the splitter islands provide refuge for pedestrians and permit them to cross one direction of traffic at a time. In terms of energy efficiently it would be interesting to note that when using roundabout vehicles are not stopped at traffic lights idling for several minutes at a time.

In Bend alone 22 roundabouts have been constructed since the first one was completed seven years ago. With a new multi-lane roundabout having been recently constructed the community is learning through public education on the city’s website and printed materials how to effectively drive them. “They have definitely improved traffic flow and crash rates,” says Nick Harnis, transportation director for the City of Bend. “When the west side of the City began to grow we began to install roundabouts on the streets and intersections.”

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