Dixon administration embraces roundabouts
The Dixon administration is making plans to replace five conventional city intersections with "modern urban roundabouts" -- adopting a traffic management strategy that has become increasingly familiar to drivers in Baltimore's suburbs.
Mayor Sheila Dixon recently asked the U.S. Congress for $22.8 million to help pay for the new traffic circles in some of the city’s most heavily traveled corridors.
The city’s plans signal an important change in Baltimore’s strategy for keeping traffic flowing.
“It’s a new way of thinking in the city,” said Jessica Keller, chief of planning for the city Department of Transportation. “It’s going to take a lot of education with the public.”
The intersections where the city wants to install roundabouts are at some of the most visible, high-traffic locations in Baltimore. One is at Key and Light streets – the gateway to Federal Hill, Locust Point and the rest of South Baltimore. Two are proposed for 33rd Street, where the city wants to build traffic circles near Lake Montebello and at University Parkway.
A roundabout at Park Circle would replace one of the city’s most troubled intersections, where Reisterstown Road, Druid Park Drive and Park Heights Avenue come together. Another, in Seton Hill, would reconfigure the junction of Druid Hill Avenue and Paca and Centre Streets.
Baltimore is estimating the total cost of the projects at $28.5 million.
Highway engineers say such roundabouts have proven highly successful on state highways and in Maryland counties.
According to the State Highway Administration, it has never had a fatal accident at an intersection that has been replaced with a roundabout. The agency said serious injuries have been reduced by 85 percent at such locations, while total crashes are down by 60 percent.
“We can’t say enough good about them,” said state highway spokesman Dave Buck. “The experience has been nothing but positive.”
Such traffic circles have become common in Maryland’s counties since the state’s first was built in the small western Howard County town of Lisbon in 1993, but the city has been slower to jump on the bandwagon.
There are currently two in the city – one on Wilkens Avenue in Southwest Baltimore and one at Inner Harbor East -- but neither is in a heavily traveled corridor that carries a high volume of traffic.
The type of roundabout the city wants to install are different from New Jersey-style rotaries or from the signal-controlled traffic circles common in Washington. Maryland’s roundabouts, which have proliferated throughout the state, operate on the principle that traffic entering the roundabout yields to vehicles already in the circle.
Highway engineers say the roundabouts’ design makes it virtually impossible to have a deadly head-on or T-bone crash. Most of the collisions that do occur cause nothing more than property damage, Buck said.
“We will take fender-benders any day,” he said.
MY TAKE: Living in Howard County, I pass through roundabouts several times each day. Once you get used to them, they're great. Not only are the safety advantages obvious, but the keep traffic flowing much more smoothly -- if more slowly -- than at signalized intersections.
Besides, when you install a roundabout, in most cases you get rid of several stoplights. What's not to like about that?