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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: Give roundabouts a chance

Roundabouts slow traffic, minimize decision-making and reduce crashes, traffic engineers say.  [SOURCE: Federal Highway Administration] Roundabouts slow traffic, minimize decision-making and reduce crashes, traffic engineers say. [SOURCE: Federal Highway Administration]

The prospect of roundabouts in Hendersonville seems to have flummoxed the motoring public and alarmed property owners.

Roundabouts raise two different challenges.
There’s no denying the fact that a roundabout takes up more room and thus would require the state to condemn more property to build them.
We’re only at the mid stages as the NCDOT, local elected leaders and the public react, discuss and massage the plans. If nothing changed — an unlikely outcome — we would in the years ahead have three roundabouts on U.S. 64 — at Glasgow Lane, Pisgah Drive and White Pine Drive — one at White Street and Kanuga Road and a big one where South Church, South King and South Main streets meet.
Right of way acquisition and utility line relocation is already under way for the first one we’ll drive around — on Greenville Highway at (realigned) Shepherd Street and Erkwood Drive. It can’t come too soon.
“The whole thing with new traffic implementation, like when we do roundabouts, you’ve got to train people to drive safely through roundabouts,” said Hendersonville City Councilman Steve Caraker. “They’re not used to it. There’s a learning curve with anything you do. The people that navigate roundabouts well are the people that live near them and have to use them all the time.”
So, the second challenge is whether the driving public will accept these changes, which are new to us but routine for millions of others. No, they’re not all in France. There are at least 10,300 roundabouts in the U.S. Florida has the most, followed by California and Texas.
As we’ve said in these columns before, the NCDOT has proposed several efficient and well-designed road improvements for our area.
Under these plans, it’s true, a ride through Laurel Park would be on a divided highway. U.S. 64 would have roundabouts to allow for safe, low-speed U-turns. A roundabout at Kanuga and White, it’s true, would be impossible without taking some business property or entire businesses. Those are not by themselves reasons to kill the improvements.
The talk at public meetings seems to be based more on emotion and fear than on facts about the safety and efficiency, where roundabouts have a very good record.
Are roundabouts safer for motorists, pedestrians and bicycle riders than conventional signalized intersections? Yes, and don’t take our word for it.
According to the Federal Highway Administration, roundabouts typically achieve a 37 percent reduction in overall collisions, a 75 percent reduction in collisions resulting in injury, a 90 percent reduction in fatalities and a 40 percent reduction in pedestrian collisions. Why? Because one-way travel eliminates the possibility of T-bone and head-on collisions. One-way travel eliminates “intersection ambiguity” factors such as right on red and beating the light. Roundabouts naturally slow intersection traffic to 15-20 mph.
Pedestrians are safer, too. So-called splitter islands (see rendering) provide a space between opposing lanes at each pedestrian crossing, and each crosswalk is set back at least one full car length from the roadway yield sign. During public hearings, the caterwauling crowd tells us that roundabouts will maim and kill elderly drivers. That’s false. Conventional intersections maim and kill much more efficiently. Older drivers are twice as likely crashes as younger drivers to be killed in intersection crashes.
The FHA analysis of roundabouts cites a report that roundabouts generate economic benefits for nearby businesses. A road improvement project that included four roundabouts, landscaping, medians and sidewalks along a commercial stretch of highway in Golden, Colorado, lowered the crash rate from 5.9 crashes per million vehicle miles to .2 crashes MVM, resulted in slower speeds and faster travel time through the corridor and increased sales tax revenue by 60 percent along the roadway.
“Well-designed roundabouts,” the engineers concluded, “are good for communities and businesses.”
We know roundabouts and medians are still a tough sell, for business owners who may lose all or part of their real estate, for residents who would be blocked from left turns out of neighborhoods, and for the vocal No Change! caucus. But for the good of all, we ought to give the new roundabout designs a chance. As we are seeing on Kanuga Road and Highland Lake Road, if we allow only those who shout the loudest and plant the most yard signs to win the argument, we’ll be stuck in traffic a long time.