<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=192888919167017&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">
Sunday,  May 26 , 2024

Linkedin Pinterest
News / Clark County News

Taking the roundabout way: Traffic feature improves safety, is here to stay in Clark County, officials say

Experts say roundabouts greatly reduce crashes

By William Seekamp, Columbian staff writer
Published: April 4, 2024, 6:06am
4 Photos
Cars drive around a roundabout Wednesday at Pioneer Street and Royle Road in Ridgefield.
Cars drive around a roundabout Wednesday at Pioneer Street and Royle Road in Ridgefield. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Clark County motorists are increasingly getting around in a roundabout way.

The circular intersections are becoming more and more common in Clark County. And although some motorists hate them, traffic engineers say they are here to stay, in large part because they greatly reduce crashes.

Already, there are more than a half-dozen in Camas and Washougal, and three near ilani. Vancouver placed them up and down the Northeast 137th/138th Avenue arterial north of Evergreen High School. Ridgefield and Clark County have embraced them, too.

Chuck Green, Ridgefield’s public works director, said roundabouts have been successful in Ridgefield.

“Generally, I’m getting that people are very supportive of roundabouts, especially if we’re working in a cultural or historical element,” Green said.

Perhaps the largest reason roundabouts are becoming more common is because they reduce collisions. There are fewer collision points in a roundabout than in a regular signalized intersection.

Studies from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Federal Highway Administration have shown a 37 percent reduction in overall crashes, 75 percent reduction in crashes with injuries, 90 percent reduction in crashes with fatalities and 40 percent reduction in crashes involving pedestrians.

One of Ridgefield’s main roads, Pioneer Street, is relatively straight, and the roundabouts deter speeding, Green added.

Roundabouts typically cost more to build than a signalized intersection but have lower maintenance costs.

It’s unclear where Clark County residents stand on roundabouts. Recent letters to the editor published in The Columbian have criticized a planned roundabout on state Highway 503 scheduled for construction this summer — but not roundabouts as a whole.

Other recent concerns over roundabouts are site-specific. Residents along Northeast 179th Street have raised concerns over the environmental impacts of planned roundabouts on wetlands and creeks, disruptions during construction and if they are needed.

Continued roundabout education is needed, said Kaley McLachlan-Burton, Clark County Public Works’ community engagement and inclusion manager, specifically about the safety benefits of roundabouts and how to safely enter and exit them.

The reason roundabouts are more common in Clark County now as opposed to decades earlier is because, according to McLachlan-Burton, modern guidance about roundabout design in the U.S. didn’t fully start to develop until the early 2000s.

There are a handful of additional roundabouts planned in Vancouver, particularly around two forthcoming developments: Section 30 in east Vancouver and in the Heights District along MacArthur Boulevard, said Ryan Lopossa, transportation manager for the city.

Last month, Ridgefield’s roundabout committee met for the first time. The five-member group recommends design concepts for the center island of the roundabouts to Ridgefield’s city council. (The committee’s second meeting is April 8 when it will discuss the 56th Avenue/Pioneer Canyon Drive roundabout design and the 35th Avenue/Pioneer Street roundabout project.)

There is a lot of potential for the islands, Green said. For example, Ridgefield Roundabout Wines are produced from grapes grown in the center island of two of Ridgefield’s roundabouts.

According to a 2021 Ridgefield survey with more than 150 respondents, the respondents’ top priorities for the roundabouts’ center islands were: representation of the local environment and local community, use of native plants and low maintenance.

One roundabout issue Ridgefield officials ran into, Green said, was people driving straight through the center island, damaging the roundabout and putting maintenance crews at risk. Adding something to the center of the roundabout prevents drivers from seeing straight through and deters them from driving straight through.

“Once people get used to it, they understand why it’s a lot more efficient and safe to drive (in a roundabout) than relying on a traffic signal,” Green said. “And it has features that people are proud of.”

Community Funded Journalism logo

This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

Columbian staff writer