Roundabouts cause rifts between cities and drivers

Tony Arnold May 4, 2011

Roundabouts cause rifts between cities and drivers

Tony Arnold May 4, 2011

Jeremy Hobson: Just west of Minneapolis where I-494 meets Highway 169, they are taking down the stoplights and putting in a roundabout. It’s just the latest example of a growing trend in suburbs around the country. The goal is to cut down on traffic congestion as well as accidents.

And as Chicago Public Radio’s Tony Arnold reports one village in Illinois is hoping a new roundabout will serve as the cornerstone for new commercial development.

Tony Arnold: When you hear the word “roundabout,” you might think of a huge multi-lane traffic circle — the kind Chevy Chase gets stuck in in “National Lampoon’s European Vacation.”

“National Lampoon’s European Vacation” clip: It’s amazing. I cannot get left. There’s Big Ben, kids. Parliament.

But the recipe for a typical roundabout these days is a little different. Take an average four-way intersection. Insert four yield signs. Add a round patch of grass in the middle. And voila.

Over the last 20 years, about 2,500 roundabouts have cropped up around the U.S.

Amy Connolly: I’m Amy Connolly, planning director for the Village of Tinley Park.

Connolly’s been given the task of developing Tinley Park for the foreseeable future — and part of that future includes a new roundabout funded by a $2 million grant. It’s planned for an intersection meant to connect drivers from the nearby highway to the downtown area. Connolly says it’ll help clear the traffic jams that clog the intersection now, and she says it will allow construction of a new commercial development without adding extra congestion. It’s also intended to make the area more pedestrian-friendly.

Connolly: We sort of drive on auto-pilot these days but things like roundabouts really force you to sort of slow down and think about what you’re doing, and that makes for a safer intersection.

On a recent afternoon, Connolly drives me to South Holland — two towns over. There we find a model for the Tinley Park roundabout. She says municipalities like roundabouts because they cut down on the electricity costs of running stoplights, and insurance groups show there are fewer serious accidents.

But the real trick could be getting local residents on board. Dave Burke lives by the South Holland roundabout and is unimpressed.

Dave Burke: It doesn’t slow the traffic down, nobody knows how to use it.

Not unlike Chevy Chase, who needs a whole day to finally figure out that traffic circle in London.

In Chicago, I’m Tony Arnold for Marketplace.

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