Roundabouts Yield Few Complaints After One Year

One year after the Department of Transportation opened two roundabouts on Hwy. 42/57 in Sturgeon Bay, Sturgeon Bay Police Chief Arleigh Porter says they’re working exactly as the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) predicted.

“In my opinion they’re working fine,” Porter said. “There have been crashes but they have been minor. I’m very pleased with how it has gone.”

As of June 30, 2017, there were 17 crashes at the two roundabouts. Four of the crashes occurred at the roundabout located at Michigan Street and Hwy. 42 near the YMCA, while 13 occurred at the intersection of Hwy 42 and Egg Harbor Road.

Most of the crashes were the result of drivers failing to yield to vehicles already in the roundabout. Others were caused when drivers abruptly braked before entering a roundabout, resulting in rear-end collisions. Of the 17 crashes, none resulted in injury. Nine resulted in no or minor vehicle damage, five in moderate damage, and three in functional damage to a vehicle.

According to the DOT, studies show that roundabouts reduce crashes and injuries by decreasing speeds and minimizing head-on and t-bone collisions.

The Sturgeon Bay roundabout at Michigan Street and Hwy 42, as recorded with a drone at 2 pm on Friday, June 30, 2017. Video by Jacob Dannhausen-Brun. In a 2:31 stretch, 70 cars entered the roundabout, nine of which required a full, brief stop before entering the roundabout.

Before building the roundabouts, the DOT commissioned a study from AECOM consultants in which accidents from 2004 to 2008 were compiled and broken down in detail. At Michigan St. there were 29 crashes in that span resulting in seven injuries. Eleven percent of those crashes were head-on and 50 percent were angle, or side impact, collisions.

At Egg Harbor Road there were 9 crashes in that span, resulting in six injuries. Sixty percent of those crashes were classified as angle collisions.

When the DOT released plans to construct the roundabouts many residents protested vehemently, and State Sen. Frank Lasee even called a last-minute meeting for residents to air fears about the project. Many of those opposed to the roundabouts predicted they would create large traffic backups and increase crashes by confused drivers, but those fears have not materialized.

“I haven’t heard of any problems with backups,” Porter said. “They certainly move traffic exactly how the state said they would.”

Jim Hoyer was one of those opposed to the roundabouts. He said he does not think the roundabouts are detrimental to traffic flow most of the time, but he said he is frequently delayed when attempting to enter the roundabout at Michigan Street and Hwy. 42.

“I have sat for a couple minutes at the Michigan Street roundabout when we have heavy traffic moving north on Friday afternoons,” he said. “You’re kind of taking your chances when you try to get into the roundabout.”

Porter said he was skeptical of the proposal at first, but the results have proven that the DOT chose the right course.

“We have a couple of big weekends, but 90 percent of the time there’s little traffic there,” he said. “If we do have some slowdowns it’s more than worth it for how well it moves traffic most days of the year. As humans, we simply hate change, we need to see how something works before we get behind it.”

Hoyer said his opposition to the roundabouts was due largely to aesthetics.

“I just don’t know that it’s a great idea for Door County,” he said. “We’re a unique place, and maybe it’s just a nostalgia for days gone by and the look of a small, rural community.”

Porter said one of the biggest problems he has observed is drivers trying to pass other drivers inside the roundabout.

Randy Asman, a traffic engineer for the DOT, said there have been no complaints about the roundabouts since they opened.

“In general in this industry, if you don’t hear any complaints, that means things are working pretty good,” he said. “We’ve had zero correspondence back and forth about those intersections. The county and city police have echoed that these are really moving traffic.”

When the roundabouts opened in July of 2016, Asman spent hours observing traffic at the roundabouts and said backups were negligible even on the holiday weekend.

Like other critics, Porter would have liked to see a roundabout at the Gordon Road and Hwy. 42 intersection near Culver’s before the Michigan Street intersection. But the DOT doesn’t pick intersections to reconstruct unless they’re part of a stretch of highway up for resurfacing or reconstruction.

“Anytime we have a project where we have to rebuild intersections, we have to weigh the pros and cons of both putting in stoplights and building a roundabout,” said Asman.

“I can’t think of one location where we’ve installed a roundabout where we went back and thought we shouldn’t have done that,” he said. “I would anticipate that there will be much less opposition in the future.”

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