Roundabouts are something of a transportation oddity, a distant European cousin of our traditional American intersections. Yet after nearly six years, they have become a welcome addition for Columbia drivers.
Where motorists’ faces were once befuddled as they approached the circular drives, they now offer barely passing glances at fellow drivers as they become more comfortable with the change. City and law enforcement officials, meanwhile, are praising roundabouts for boosting safety and reducing congestion at busy intersections.
“It’s the best thing that ever happened,” Parkade Neighborhood Association secretary Peter Anger said of the city’s first roundabout. It was built in June 2000 at Creasy Springs Road and Business Loop 70 West.
Anger said that before construction of the roundabout, “there was an accident at least once a week when through-traffic from the business loop didn’t slow down.” But, he said, the situation has changed dramatically for the better.
“I’ll bet you my next paycheck that there are less accidents,” Anger said. “Everyone is just able to slow down and get into a rhythm.”
Sgt. Tim Moriarity of the Columbia Police Department confirmed Anger’s suspicions. Though precise data was not immediately available, he said roundabouts reduce crashes.
“There is just a major reduction in the number of accidents,” Moriarity said. “They’re built in such a way that drivers — at least to me — seem much more courteous when they slow down and yield to somebody on the right.”
Moriarity said roundabouts are safer because they counteract a driver’s instinct.
“It’s built on the notion that you have to slow down, rather than just speed up and blow through an intersection before the light changes,” Moriarity said. “From a police standpoint, (the Creasy Springs intersection) used be one of the worst in the city, but now I doubt if it’s even in the top 15 in terms of accidents.”
The success at Creasy Springs gave the city incentive to build four additional roundabouts, and it plans another at Forum Boulevard and Southampton Drive. The others are Garth Avenue and Blue Ridge Road, at Old 63 and Chinaberry Drive and in two residential subdivisions.
Intersections are designed to be points of conflict in a traffic system where multiple routes of travel meet in a sort of controlled chaos. Advocates for roundabouts, including the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Federal Highway Administration, say the circular drives reduce the number of conflict points.
Public Works Director John Glascock said it’s that attribute that makes roundabouts desirable for intersections such as Creasy Springs, where five road converge. He’s pleased with the reception they’ve received and the ease with which drivers have adapted.
“The idea was met with some apprehension to start with, merely because the concept was unknown and unfamiliar for most people,” Glascock said. “But today, if you told people you were taking them out, you’d have twice as many people telling you to keep them than to remove them.”
In fact, the popularity and effectiveness of roundabouts have the city considering them for even bigger intersections. However, Glascock emphasized that the idea has merely been floated.
Anger said drivers who dislike roundabouts need to get with the times.
“Columbia is a growing city and getting nuts with traffic,” he said. “It’s not possible to just drive across town in five minutes anymore. These things get traffic organized, and if you can do that, it’s better for everybody.”
Roundabouts not only reduce the number of accidents, but also make them less severe because people are driving slower. While the city’s Public Works and Planning and Building departments installed roundabouts with this goal in mind, it is Columbia police who have witnessed the favorable result.
“Everyone is becoming more comfortable with them,” Moriarity said. “I think the city engineers have done a good job strategically placing them in the places they’re needed most.”