Cars in east Mesa have been driving in circles. A pair of modern roundabouts opened June 8 on Brown Road immediately east and west of the future Red Mountain Freeway stretch of Loop 202, and neighbors are still forming their opinions.
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“It isn’t easy to get people to accept something that’s different,” said Arizona Department of Transportation spokesman Doug Nintzel. “But there shouldn’t be that much stress about using these roundabouts.” He said roundabouts reduce congestion, pollution and fatal crashes. And he said the rules to use them are simple: Slow down and yield upon entering. Another pair of roundabouts opened Dec. 14 along the freeway’s planned path at McKellips Road, and Nintzel said motorists will start to see more of these traffic control devices around the state and across the nation.
“They are gaining favor around the country,” he said.
For now, the roundabouts in east Mesa allow U-turns and a path over freeway construction without stoplights or stop signs. When the final five-mile stretch of the Red Mountain Freeway opens next summer, the roundabouts also will serve as freeway interchanges.
That’s when traffic will increase and the roundabouts will get their first real test. Nearby resident Fred Peckinpaugh expects the worst.
“Once they open the highway,” he said, “it’s going to get all jammed up.”
Nintzel said traffic studies at other locations suggest otherwise.
“Today’s roundabout here in Arizona is not the same as a traffic circle in Europe,” he said.
Modern roundabouts don’t require motorists inside the circle to yield to merging traffic, he said. And most cars can move through the interchange without ever changing lanes or stopping.
He also said the roundabouts reduce collisions overall and reduce fatal collisions by as much as 90 percent compared to traditional intersections with right angles and traffic signals.
“It’s difficult to have a T-bone collision in a roundabout,” Nintzel said. “Most crashes tend to be less serious side-swipe crashes or angle crashes.”
If one goal of the roundabouts is to get motorists to slow down, Peckinpaugh said the ones along Brown Road have already failed.
“It just opened up and turned into a raceway,” he said. Reyna Grijalva, another neighbor who will use the roundabouts every day on her way to work at Salk Elementary School, said she slows to 25 mph as required — but that’s her gripe. “I don’t want to slow down,” she said. Others in the neighborhood love the new roundabouts. “I don’t have any complaints at all,” Jeff Sielaw said. “I love it. There’s no stopping, and there’s no need for electricity because there’s no traffic lights.”
Nintzel said roundabouts are not ideal for every location, and engineers consider many factors. One key factor, he said, is community support.
Before the roundabouts received approval in east Mesa in 2003, Nintzel said the state obtained support from 15 neighborhood groups and the entire City Council.
“Mesa had input,” said Dale Brunk, one of the city’s chief traffic analysts. “We’re comfortable with what they’re doing.”
Nintzel said the state will have a year before the freeway opens to develop strategies with Mesa to get vehicles to slow down.
“The goal will be to get more and more people to slow down and drive safely,” he said. “That’s when the roundabouts work best.”
Q. What is a roundabout?
A. A roundabout is a one-way circular intersection without traffic signals in which traffic flows around a center island.
Q. What is the difference between a modern roundabout and a traffic circle?
A. Modern roundabouts involve a “yield at entry” rule and low speeds. Traffic circles can be much larger, can involve stop signs or stop signals and can require traffic to move from one lane to another. Traffic also can move at higher speeds.
Q. What parts of the Red Mountain Freeway stretch of Loop 202 will include roundabouts?
A. Roundabouts have already opened at Brown and McKellips roads. These will connect to Loop 202 when it opens.
Q. Are these roundabouts the first in Arizona?
A. The state has already built roundabout interchanges at Happy Valley Road and Interstate 17 in north Phoenix, and another exists at state routes 80 and 92 near Bisbee. Other roundabouts are planned or under construction in Flagstaff and Prescott.
Q. Why not build traditional interchanges with traffic signals?
A. The state says roundabouts reduce congestion, pollution and fatal crashes.
SOURCE: Arizona Department of transportation