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Traffic Going in Circles Could Be Positive

The cities of Carmel and Indianapolis are feuding over traffic roundabouts. One member of the Indianapolis City Council is attempting to prevent Carmel leaders from creating roundabouts at Gray Road, Hazel Dell Parkway, Delagates Row and Randall Drive where each meet 96th Street. The claim is that the roundabouts will hurt businesses.

The city councilwoman who opposed the roundabouts is Christine Scales, D-Indianapolis, who represents businesses in Marion County along the 96th Street corridor. Scales recently commented, “Well, first of all I think they are a solution to problem that doesn’t exist. I think that the destruction, the hurt they will cause economically to the businesses along East 96th Street will be greater than the benefits realized.”

But are roundabouts really a bad thing? And do they actually impact businesses negatively?

The Benefits of Roundabouts

Roundabouts are one variety of circular intersection, but they are not the same as a traffic circle or rotary. They also are not always perfectly circular—they can be oval or even dogbone-shaped. What does distinguish a roundabout, however, is that traffic moves counterclockwise around an island at low speeds—usually 25 mph or lower—with entering traffic yielding to traffic in the roundabout. And, because there are no lights to “beat,” there is no incentive to speed up, which reduces the number of accidents.

Roundabouts come to us from Europe and have been shown to increase traffic safety, reducing serious and fatal crashes 78 to 82 percent compared to intersections controlled by either stop signs or traffic signals. The reduction of crashes arises largely from the fewer number of “conflict points,” or opportunities for crashes, and from the lower speeds involved. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) demonstrated in a study that roundabouts usually attain:

  • Overall collision reductions of 37 percent
  • Reductions of collisions with injuries by 75 percent
  • Reductions of collisions with fatalities by 90 percent
  • Reductions of pedestrian collisions by 40 percent.

But What about the Impact on Businesses?

Roundabouts, contrary to what some believe, can be good for businesses. A study done in Golden, CO, showed that the traffic and safety improvements associated with their new roundabouts helped draw people to the area. Fewer accidents, traffic delays, and better access control translated into economic revitalization. Sales tax revenues increased 60 percent over six years. A North Carolina study of the Raleigh area also found that new businesses moved in once a roundabout became operational.

The Director of Engineering for Carmel, Jeremy Kashman, has stated that the city intends to continue with its plans for roundabouts, with or without Scales’s approval. Kashman has claimed that roundabouts will improve both traffic safety and general traffic flow, saying, “We’ll see improved traffic, probably even see speeds go down a little bit because traffic can move more efficiently throughout the corridor.”

One thing is sure—we haven’t heard the last about this issue.

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