Round and Round the Roundabout
11th and College is a pivotal intersection for Bozeman. It forms the northwestern entrance to Montana State University and it serves as an access point to the new Town & Country supermarket and multiple businesses along College. On a busy day when classes dismiss the intersection backs up to the south with students, faculty and staff. During the 5 PM close of business crunch the intersection backs up to the west, as it is a feeder intersection for the south and east parts of town. In the 2007 Greater Bozeman Area Transportation Plan, College Street was already at 2003 capacity levels. 11th and College is an important point in mitigating congestion on this key street.
The Bozeman City Commission has decided to install a roundabout at this intersection. Being the third roundabout in Bozeman, it is being met with a fair amount of resistance. They aren’t perceived as “old fashioned”, hence their “newness” must be resisted. Roundabouts are seen by some as a form of liberal infiltration into Montana values and perceived as costing too much.
Roundabouts are unsignalized circular intersections that minimize traffic delay and maximize safety. For intersections with heavy left turn traffic the roundabouts offer a good way to keep traffic flowing in a smooth manner. Incoming vehicles yield to circulating traffic. The advantages of roundabouts include: safety, easy u-turns, increased vehicle fuel efficiency, minimal maintenance costs and aesthetic appeal.
The roundabout for vehicular use dates to 1909, fully 13 years earlier than electric traffic signals, which debuted in Salt Lake City in 1924. They aren’t new. From traffic safety standpoint roundabouts are safer. Head on, rear end and side impact accidents are minimized. In 2004, 45 % of all accidents occurred in intersections. These accidents accounted for 21% of all traffic fatalities. In a roundabout the traffic enters at an angle, travels slower at a uniform speed and does not require the driver to look up – away from the action – as traffic signals do. Signaled intersections can be less efficient; frequently the condition exists where no vehicles are crossing the intersection while many wait. They also require complex speed and distance assessments, which when added to the task of texting makes for a very dangerous intersection.
Colorado Springs became the first city in the state of Colorado to embrace traffic roundabouts in 1983. As of March 2009 the city had 68 roundabouts with 10 planned for this year. Roundabouts are simply a time proven, cost efficient and safer method of intersection control. Plus they save time. Your time.
How city, county, state and federal government spend tax revenue is perhaps the greatest source of discontent among citizens. The initial cost of a roundabout is equal to that of a signal intersection. The annual cost for maintenance and energy is on average $15,000 per intersection. With power outages roundabouts continue to function. With less stopping, idling and low gear starts, automobiles maintain a lower, more even RPM. This saves fuel, which equates to lower emissions. For the businesses, houses and dorms surrounding the intersection, that is a welcome break. The landscape potential for a gateway to MSU can speak to our agriculture heritage. When was the last time you saw an attractive traffic signal?
Traffic roundabouts are a sensible method of vehicular traffic control. For the City of Bozeman to step up and construct a major roundabout is a bold move. Once our community accepts the roundabout we will hopefully see more of these low tech, simple and efficient means of controlling traffic in our community.