Drivers, pedestrians urged to orbit Springfield roundabout with care.
SPRINGFIELD - Now that PeaceHealth's new RiverBend medical center is open for business, city traffic officials know two things for sure: There will be a lot of traffic flowing to and from the huge hospital; and quite a few of those vehicles will find themselves navigating the multilane roundabout on Hayden Bridge Road where Pioneer Parkway turns into Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway.
That shouldn't be a problem for Springfield residents who've been twirling around the rather complicated traffic circle - the first high-capacity, multilane roundabout in the state - since it opened nearly two years ago, Traffic Engineer Brian Barnett says. But for those who haven't come across it before, it can be a daunting prospect.
Late last week, Barnett and a few fellow workers stood in the hot sun at every entrance to the busy roundabout, handing out thousands of brochures that explain how to enter the circle safely and get out at the right spot on the other side without mishap.
It's really pretty simple if drivers just keep their wits about them, Barnett said.
"On a multilane roundabout, the key first step is to do what you would do in any regular intersection," he said. "If you want to turn left, get into the left lane going into the roundabout. If you want to go right or straight out the other side, stay to the right."
When approaching the roundabout, look out for pedestrians waiting to cross - because there are no signals, pedestrians always have the right of way - and let them pass before moving up to the "yield" line at the entrance to the circle, Barnett said.
Then look for a gap in traffic, get in, signal for the exit you need and drive out the other side, again stopping to let pedestrians cross, he said.
At traffic technician Jeff Smith's post where Pioneer Parkway meets the roundabout, most drivers waved off the offer of a brochure, breezing by with the confidence of having long since mastered the route. Others eased forward, opened their windows and gratefully took a brochure.
"This is scary!" said a woman in an older sedan, obviously new to the maneuver.
If it's scary to people in cars, it's even more so for motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians, Smith acknowledged.
"I ride a motorcycle, and when I've been on this roundabout, I've had people come in fast, and half the time I wonder if they're going to stop or not - I'm not sure they even see me," he said.
Even though roundabout traffic slows considerably - usually to about 20 mph - compared to traditional intersections controlled by signal lights, bicyclists face even more of a dilemma, Barnett said.
"Bicyclists really have two choices with a roundabout - acting as vehicles in the traffic lane or essentially becoming pedestrians," he said. "Most commuter riders drive just like vehicles, blending right into the traffic because they're traveling about the same speed, and it's not tough at all. Other people prefer to use pedestrian crossings and then become vehicles again on the other side, and that's perfectly legal, too."
Pedestrians at roundabouts "need to be very alert and assertive" in order to cross traffic lanes that normally would be controlled with walk signals, Barnett said. "State law says that people in crosswalks or about to enter crosswalks have the right of way over vehicles. When I want to cross at a roundabout, I wave my hand and make eye contact and move forward as if to step into the traffic lane so the motorist knows I intend to cross. Most of the time, they realize they're supposed to stop."
Despite their seeming complexity, roundabouts result in fewer vehicle accidents than those at regular intersections, Barnett said.
"Generally, a one-lane roundabout has 90 percent fewer crashes than regular intersections, and the rate for multi-lane roundabouts is about 35 percent less," he said. "That's why I have to say - and I usually don't advocate for things in my job - that I am in favor of roundabouts because of the safety factor."
Accidents at regular, signalized intersections usually involve traffic going much faster and colliding at more damaging "high energy" angles, such as rear-end, broadside and front-end smashups, whereas roundabout collisions "are usually low-speed and more of a sideswipe situation with cars headed in the same direction, so the force is much less and there's much less damage," Barnett said.
He believes Springfield's six roundabouts - five single-lane circles in addition to the multi-lane on Hayden Bridge, - have good accident records so far.
"But the multi-lane roundabout is still officially in Lane County, and since they don't respond to minor accidents and most roundabout accidents are minor, we don't have reliable data," Barnett said. "We're hoping to get better statistics."
Charlotte Martin can help with that; she's been an accident statistic on the roundabout - twice, through no fault of her own.
"We live really close to the roundabout, so we have to drive through it several times a day," Martin said.
The first accident happened when she was driving through the roundabout and a woman "suddenly crossed right in front of me," Martin recalled. "I slammed on my brakes and hit the horn, but it didn't help. I could see the look on her face - she obviously didn't know what she was doing and didn't want to be there in the first place."
Martin's 2005 Toyota Corolla sustained $600 in damage.
The second time - just last Tuesday - involved Martin's brand new 2009 Toyota Corolla and happened on her birthday to boot.
"I was in the one-lane area, where the people come in from Martin Luther King Jr. (Parkway) and have nothing to do but yield to the traffic that's already there, but this car drove right in and hit my front passenger fender. I was a little ticked off."
This time, the fix will cost more than $1,500 to a car she's had less than two weeks.
"I live here - I'm always so cautious, I almost drive the roundabout with my hand on the horn and my foot on the brake," Martin said. "I never imagined I'd be in one accident on the roundabout, much less two."
Even so, she likes the concept of roundabouts.
"I think the idea of the roundabout is perfect - it actually makes traffic flow really well - if people know how to use it," Martin said. "But I'm afraid it won't be possible to educate everyone. Now I feel that it's going to happen again, that because I live right here, it's bound to happen again."
Barnett marvels at Martin's ability to recognize the value of roundabouts despite her own negative experience.
"Here's somebody who's had two collisions, and yet she's talking about it in a fairly positive way," he said. "If those accidents had happened at regular intersections, that probably wouldn't be the case."
Using a multilane roundabout
If you're in a car:
Approach in the left lane if you would be making a left-hand turn in a regular intersection; take the right lane for a right turn or straight-ahead movement.
Stop for pedestrians or bicyclists at crosswalks and let them pass; they have the right of way.
Pull forward to yield line; enter the roundabout when there's a safe gap in traffic.
Exit onto the desired street, again giving way to pedestrians or bicyclists in designated crosswalks.
If you're on a bicycle:
Approach the roundabout in the bicycle lane.
When the bicycle lane ends, ride up to the sidewalk or merge with traffic.
Follow the same rules as motorists; use the center of the travel lane.
If using the sidewalk, follow the same rules as pedestrians; use the bike ramp to re-enter the bike lane after leaving the roundabout.
If you're a pedestrian:
Always use the sidewalk; approach the crosswalk and look for approaching vehicles. Wave or make eye contact with approaching drivers, signalling your desire to cross the traffic lane.
When safe, cross the street to the median island and look for approaching vehicles from the other direction. When safe, use the same method to cross the remaining lane of traffic.