Jim Brainard’s experience with English traffic roundabouts must have been far different from Clark Griswold’s.
Brainard, studying in England, watched them work and was impressed.
So, shortly after being elected mayor of Carmel, Ind., in 1996, he asked city engineers to see about adding them to a road project. Seventeen years later, the city has more than 60 roundabouts — perhaps closer to 80 if you include smaller ones in residential areas, the mayor said Tuesday.
In “National Lampoon’s European Vacation,” Chevy Chase’s character, Griswold, and his family are trapped in a London traffic circle for hours, circling as he repeats the comment, “Look, kids, there’s Big Ben, Parliament.”
Tim Simodynes, of the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Office of Traffic Operations, also sees roundabouts differently.
“We are not building the thing you see on European vacation or what goes around the Arc de Triomphe,” he said. “Modern roundabouts can handle full-size trucks; buses can get through them.”
Carmel, located just north of Indianapolis with a population of 81,534, has 38 traffic signals. Davenport, by comparison, has 163 traffic signals.
As part of a proposed plan to convert one-way 3rd and 4th streets to two-way traffic, the Davenport Public Works Department recommended installing 10 roundabouts. Under the proposal that also includes traffic signals and stop signs, roundabouts could be built at the intersections where Iowa, Harrison, Gaines, Marquette and Division streets intersect with 3rd and 4th streets.
Carmel’s Brainard offers five reasons for using roundabouts: safety, cost, the environment, aesthetics and efficiency.
Roundabouts lower speeds, so that when crashes happen, they aren’t as severe.
“Having everyone slow down allows for everyone to be more aware,” he said.
The cost of installing a roundabout is less than a traffic signal, Brainard said. Davenport’s proposal would knock down the cost of converting the one-ways from $2.2 million with signals at intersections to $500,000 with the roundabouts.
Because drivers don’t stop at roundabouts, Brainard said, they don’t waste gas idling or accelerating from a stop. A study done by the city of Carmel showed an average fuel savings of 24,000 gallons per year.
Carmel’s roundabouts include landscaping and public art, enhancing the intersection and boosting property values, Brainard said.
Yielding instead of stopping keeps traffic moving, allowing for less congestion, the Carmel mayor said.
“Our commuters love them here,” he said.
There are plenty of reasons to use roundabouts, said Scott Larson, assistant city engineer for Coralville. Coralville has four of them, the first replacing a Y-intersection that had speed problems.
“If you look beyond Iowa or the Quad-City area, they are increasing in numbers,” Larson said. “I don’t see any reason why that increase would slow down.”
The Iowa DOT reports 46 roundabouts, including one in Bettendorf, across the state, including five on rural state routes. Economic development is making the state take a closer look at how to use them.
“We’ve slowed down on consideration of state routes because we don’t want to limit oversized loads like wind turbines,” Simodynes said. “We also have those problems with bridges and light poles and corners, too.”
Larson said Coralville residents met the concept with little resistance to the first one and none from the rest.
Brainard and Simodynes said it is best to get the information out and answer questions for drivers.
“Public education is a key,” he said.