Roundabouts Increasing Around Middle Tennessee

October 4, 2011

Circular intersections are becoming more common in Middle Tennessee as statistics show they decrease accidents and traffic congestion.

Middle Tennessee State University is working on the second of three roundabouts, and Belmont University has one planned. The city of Nashville plans one near the future Music City Center, the city of Franklin plans two more in addition to the one it has and roundabouts are starting to show up in subdivisions.

Bob Murphy, who is president of RPM Traffic Consultants, which designs roundabouts, told The Tennessean that they are uncomfortable to drivers by design because it forces them to slow down and pay attention.

“They’re different. But when you look at the facts, roundabouts are very effective at reducing crashes, reducing congestion,” Murphy said. “It doesn’t require that much thought to drive through a traffic signal, whereas with a roundabout you actually have to think.”

Because of their shape, roundabouts eliminate the possibility of head-on and T-bone collisions. They also allow drivers to look mostly left instead of both ways.

According to Federal Highway Administration data, converted intersections have a 90 percent reduction in fatal collisions and a 76 percent reduction in injury collisions.

Before installing a roundabout, MTSU used a police officer to direct traffic at one of the main campus entrances. Ron Malone, assistant vice president for events and transportation services, said vehicles would back up as much as 15 deep in every direction. There usually were a few crashes each year.

There’s no need for an officer since the roundabout was installed, and there’s been only one minor crash in three years, he said.

“Prior to putting in that roundabout, evacuating through that intersection would have been a total nightmare,” Malone said.

Jason Rogers, vice president of administration at Belmont, said the school is adding a roundabout mostly to improve safety and traffic flow.

In Franklin, the first roundabouts appeared years ago, and some drivers still don’t understand when to yield, said resident Cari Safford. Even so, she said she and her neighbors understand the benefit of having it.

“It keeps things moving,” Safford said. “Even if you don’t know how to use it, at least you’re moving slow.”

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