The research wasn’t enough to convince Oxford officials to approve a proposed roundabout project of their own at a meeting earlier this week.
“I’m very against roundabouts,” Mayor Leon Smith said at the meeting. “I think roundabouts are pretty good in congested cities but I’m not for having that out here.”
However, in the view of Jack Plunk, a principal planner for the Metropolitan Planning Organization, roundabouts are a better alternative to most other kinds of intersections.
“They are a proven technique to take conflict points out of the roadway, which makes them much safer,” Plunk said.
A roundabout of small-scale use can be seen in action at McClellan in front of the fire station. There, five roads converge at a circle. Motorists entering the circle turn right, yielding to any traffic already in the circle. They then proceed counter-clockwise until they reach their desired new direction.
According to the Federal Highway Administration, compared to stop-light and two-way-stop intersections, roundabouts have 39 percent fewer crashes, 76 percent fewer crashes with injuries and 90 percent fewer crashes with fatalities.
“The reason for that is speed,” said Gene Russell, professor emeritus of civil engineering at Kansas State University and chairman of the Transportation Research Board. “And the speed reduction relies on reflection … so even if you do have an altercation with a car, it’s generally a low-speed angle crash, not a right-angle crash.”
The Transportation Research Board is a division of the National Research Council, which serves as an independent advisor to the president, Congress and federal agencies on scientific questions of national importance.
The Oxford City Council recently had the opportunity to construct a roundabout but decided to pass on it for now.
The council on Tuesday tabled a proposed $965,000 project to construct a roundabout at the intersection of Leon Smith Parkway and Friendship Road, favoring instead to convert the intersection from a two-way to a four-way stop, complete with speed strips. It was the consensus of the council members that, while they were unsure if a roundabout would be the safest option for motorists, they would first try more traditional and less expensive options to improve traffic at the dangerous intersection.
If approved, Oxford would be responsible for 20 percent, or $193,000 worth, of the roundabout project’s cost. The rest would be paid for by the Metropolitan Planning Organization or MPO, a federally funded transportation policy-making and planning organization that is part of the East Alabama Regional Development and Planning Commission.
An FHA report states that more crashes occur at traditional intersections because, with different crossing and entering movements by both drivers and pedestrians, intersections are some of the most complex traffic situations motorists encounter. The dangers are compounded by speeding motorists who disregard traffic controls.
A study by the Federal Highway Administration found that in 2004, more than 2.7 million intersection-related crashes occurred, accounting for more than 45 percent of all crashes in the United States. Also, intersection fatalities were 21 percent of all traffic deaths that year and 45 percent of all injury crashes occurred at intersections.
Russell noted that aside from the danger of people running stop signs occasionally, a four-way stop is almost as safe as a roundabout. Still, a roundabout has four-way stops and other kinds of intersections beat in regard to traffic control and congestion.
“Roundabouts have operational benefits — they reduce delays and stops and backups,” Russell said. “They are more efficient than signals and stop signs.”
He added that roundabouts are cheaper than traffic-light intersections in the long run.
“Roundabouts cost a little more at first, but they are cheaper in the long run compared to signals, which have to be maintained.”
Plunk said that while construction on the roundabout project is not scheduled to start until after 2013, the Oxford City Council may not have quite that long to decide whether to accept the MPO funds.
“If they don’t accept the money, we’ll just find another project to allocate it to,” Plunk said.
Star staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561.