Monday, April 18, 2016

Roundabouts are safer for people walking

Traffic circles were a fairly common sight in Canadian cities during the first half of the 20th century, but by the end of that century most were replaced with traffic lights. Traffic lights were thought to be safer and more efficient. Interestingly while we were replacing traffic circles with traffic lights, over in the UK, the roundabout was invented.

The roundabout is the evolution of the traffic circle, being not only safer but also more efficient. In BC, roundabouts started becoming increasing more common when the BC Ministry of Transportation started to require that “roundabouts shall be considered as the first option for intersection designs where 4-way stop control or traffic signals are supported by traffic analysis” at the beginning of this century.

An example roundabout. Select image to enlarge.

The City of Langley is replacing the traffic light at 203rd Street and 53rd Avenue with a roundabout. I’ve received several emails from concerned residents that the roundabout will decrease safety and increase vehicle collisions. These people are also concerned that the roundabout will make it more dangerous for people walking across the intersection too.

Now there is a fair amount of research that shows collisions between vehicles are reduced, but what about the safety of people walking?

I found a paper from 2013 that examined the collision rate for pedestrians at roundabouts in Ontario.

Pedestrian Collision Rates by Intersection Category in Ontario. Select table to enlarge.

Roundabouts are not only safer for people driving, but for people walking as well. Robert Henderson and Nancy Button, the authors of the paper, call out the following reasons for improved safety including:

  • The driver has more time to judge and react to pedestrians because of the slower speeds;
  • The pedestrian only has to watch for traffic in one direction at a time;
  • With no traffic control signal to divert the driver’s attention upward, the driver is focused on the vehicles and pedestrians around them;
  • The driver is more likely to be looking in the direction of the pedestrian. When turning at a signal, the driver is often watching for conflicting traffic and not where they are going, e.g. looking left while turning right; and
  • The driver and pedestrian are more likely to be alert and aware of each other because the driver and pedestrian have to decide when to go.

So while many people think that roundabouts are unsafe, the numbers tell a different story.

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