Drivers to get an education on roundabouts

Thursday, June 21, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:15 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

As Columbia motorists drive circles around a new means of traffic control, the city is hoping to make sure they know the ins and outs of roundabouts.

Because the number of roundabouts in Columbia is growing, the Columbia Public Works Department has launched a driver-education campaign.

“We get lots of people from out of town here in Columbia; it’s a very transient town,” said Jill Stedem, public works department spokeswoman. “It’s hard to focus on a target market when you have people coming in and out of town, but we’re hoping that with the video and the Web site we can get the information to as many people as we can.”

Columbia Driving School owner Drew Scheneman said his school includes information about how a roundabout works in its training. He said it usually takes one or two tries for his students to get accustomed to them.

“They’re not as straightforward as other intersections,” he said. “It’s kind of like a jump rope. You have to time it right and know when to jump in.”

When approaching a roundabout, a driver should slow down and look to see if traffic is approaching to their left in the circle, according to the city’s Web site. Drivers entering the roundabout need to yield to approaching traffic, but if there are no cars coming, a driver does not have to stop before entering the roundabout.

The city currently has 11 roundabouts, according to the city’s Web site. A 12th will open later this year at the intersection of State Farm Parkway and Southampton Drive, Stedem said. Public Works traffic engineer Richard Stone said roundabouts have been approved for the Vandiver Drive extension and are being considered for projects on Clark Lane.

Stedem said data about safety and traffic management make the roundabouts more attractive to the city when planning projects. According to 2001 data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the installation of a roundabout leads to a 20 percent reduction in traffic delays because it reduces the need to come to a complete stop at the intersection. Stone said this decrease helps the environment by lowering fuel consumption and pollution.

A 2000 report by the Insurance Institute showed that at intersections where stop signs or traffic signals had been replaced by a roundabout, crashes with injuries dropped 75 percent. Stone said roundabouts are safer because they limit the interaction between vehicles and lower the number of potential conflict points where cars could collide.

The costs to maintain a roundabout are less than an intersection with stop lights. While roundabouts can cost more to maintain than an intersection with stop signs, Stone said environmental concerns and the benefit of fewer accidents balance out the costs.

The campaign will feature material on the city’s Web site, information in the local media and a video on the city’s public access television channel about navigating roundabouts. The information will include how to enter the roundabout, who to yield to and information for pedestrians. Stedem said the location of roundabouts in the city and how to navigate through them is already on the city’s Web site. She said the city is currently working on the video, and officials hope to complete it by fall when college students, especially new freshmen, come back to school.

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