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Indianapolis Jumps on the Roundabout Bandwagon

On Monday, July 2nd, Rebuild Indy’s twitter account posted their major project fact sheet.   Linked are 5 different pdf files that mention the installation of roundabouts.  The fact that these are happening without much public fanfare might speak to the fact that this style of intersection is becoming quite common in the region, but I believe these will be the first modern roundabouts on major roads to be built in Indianapolis.  I’ll get to the pluses and minuses later in the article, but first, links to the locations.

Five Points and Thompson:

Edgewood and Gray:

Edgewood and McFarland:

German Church at 42nd and 46th Streets:

SpringMill-91stFS:

Last week, the contributors at Urban Indy relayed some positives and negatives of roundabouts, and I thought it would be good to simply list them out.

Positives:

  • Lower noise and emissions.
  • Reduces severity and frequency of crashes.
  • Can be more aesthetically pleasing than lighted suburban intersections.
  • Lower maintenance and electricity costs.
  • Might prevent further widening of roads to where they will be even more foreboding to pedestrians.

Negatives:

  • Keeps cars moving, which is not good for pedestrians.
  • Use up a lot of land and Right-of-Way.
  • Making driving easier might not be a good thing unless it is also accompanied with a Complete Streets Policy.
  • In general, not something we should be seeing at most urban intersections, which should already be properly functioning at slowing down traffic.  They work better in suburban areas.

At the moment, I think it is a good move for these intersections to be transformed into roundabouts.  Their automobile-oriented character is not likely to change in the near future.  As for 10-15 years in the future?  That remains to be seen.  What do you think?

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33 Responses to “ “Indianapolis Jumps on the Roundabout Bandwagon”

  1. Kurt says:

    I am familiar with the Edgewood Ave locations. No sidewalks (and few, if any, pedestrians) at either intersection. And, eight homeowners who will have their houses “condemned” by eminent domain.

    It is for the best overall, but I wouldn’t want to be an owner of any of those corner properties.

    • TJ Deck says:

      I don’t live far from the Edgewood and Gray Road area. There is a vacant lot in the northeast corner of that intersection and I believe that the roundabout will be angled off in that direction, perhaps making the impact on the other corners a little less, though I would like to see a diagram that would show that. I have no idea on how the McFarland and Edgewood roundabout will be built that doesn’t involve taking down trees however. Both are fine locations, but they aren’t nearly as out in the open as many of the Carmel and other suburban roundabouts are.

  2. John Howard says:

    I think they are scary to navigate on a bicycle. The cars buzz through them with little concern about the guy on 2 wheels who needs to go 1/2 or 3/4 circle.

    The roundabout Beech Grove put in has tire tracks ALL OVER the middle island, that look like trucks with dual-wheels couldn’t make the look with out their trailer going up over the curb.

    I feel bad for the folks living on those corners. I saw the surveyor stakes placed last year and it suggested they will lose a big chunk of their yard and many mature trees.

    What about large firetrucks? How well do they handle roundabouts (especially when they must get around traffic stopped because of the approaching lights and siren)?

    • Thanks for commenting on the potential difficulties with bicycling. I do not have first hand knowledge on this issue, but it does make sense that it can be difficult for bikes.

  3. Richard W says:

    The vast majority of drivers don’t have the skills nor attentiveness to navigate a round-about. At least with a traffic light, there is something to get their attention away from their phone, their burger, etc. Most drivers don’t yield properly with a light or stopsign, so a round-about amplifies that.

    In areas where there are LOTS of these, drivers seem to do better, but it takes time. The intersections on German Church don’t have lights now, and I’ve never noticed a traffic problem at either. Not in my car or on my bike. There are a couple of newer round-abouts in Greenfield and I find those scary in car and on bike as no one has a clue what to do. They have at least one other proposed that people are fighting.

    I think we’ve not hearing any public fanfare about them because no one knows they are coming. :)

  4. JP says:

    I work in Carmel, which is known for round-abouts, and I think Kevin summarized it well. There was one intersection close to my work that would always get backed up. Once they built a round-about, the problem went away. It works well in suburbs. Although, I think they can be somewhat charming in urban settings as well. I’ve seen some in Italy (small, one lane round-abouts) that didn’t seem to be out of place. In our region, the round-abouts at Clay Terrace in Carmel are the closest thing to a round-about in a pedestrian setting.

  5. Tom M says:

    I live on the far west side of Indy and travel to Hendricks County a lot for shopping. The county has installed numerous round-about intersections, but they are mostly in rural areas. It has made travel in these areas much smoother, but I’ll have to echo concerns about having these intersections in an urban setting and how they will interact with pedestrians. I drive throughout Marion County for my job and constantly see people who do not pay attention to anything outside of their car while driving. Unfortunately, a lot of people walking don’t pay attention either. It will be interesting to see how these intersections ultimately work and if they will ‘grow’ in other areas.

  6. Chris Barnett says:

    There’s a cemetery on the SW corner of 46th & German Church with gravestones pretty close to the current intersection. May not be the best place to do this.
    .
    In general, I agree that roundabouts function better in suburban settings…and that they are NOT pedestrian-friendly. A roundabout as big and “special” as Monument Circle is fine for pedestrians because it forces low-speed traffic. Carmel’s Hazel Dell Parkway barely requires slowing for its roundabouts.

    • Aidan says:

      Hazel Dell’s inner island is too small and does not require enough of a shift for most cars going though.

  7. Traci says:

    Any word on the status regarding the proposed roundabout at 16th & Georgetown Roads? With 50+ tanker trucks a day rolling through that intersection, it would have to be a very large roundabout.

    • Joe Smoker says:

      The SRC recently won a ruling to acquire property including the billboard near that intersection. They intend to move forward and have already purchased other property. I’d imagine it is near the RFQ/RFP stage or even initial design

  8. As an addendum, in May I took a public bus in La Jolla, California that had to navigate about 5 or 6 smaller roundabouts. This was an extended bus, and it had to slow way down. This was on a Saturday, so traffic was not backed up, but this could also be a drawback to roundabouts in urban areas.

  9. Mav-1 says:

    I live in Carmel and the roundabout designs here are fabulous. I frequently bike and find them to be safer than normal intersections. When properly done they are aesthetically pleasing, safe for pedestrians, and safer for motorists. It all depends on the design.

  10. ahow628 says:

    Indy has to have one of the oldest roundabouts in the country, right? #monumentcircle

    • It’s technically a traffic circle, which is slightly different than a modern roundabout.

      • ahow628 says:

        I read that article and the roundabout one and I still can’t see the difference:
        “In the U.S., traffic engineers use the term roundabout for intersections in which entering traffic must yield to traffic already in the circle, reserving the term traffic circle for those in which entering traffic is controlled by stop signs, traffic signals, or is not formally controlled.”
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roundabout

        • ahow628 says:

          Ah, I think my confusion is based on the fact that I thought incoming traffic to the Monument Circle was required to yield. Apparently it doesn’t have to… I think.

          • It is an implied stop. Most of the articles I’ve read mention that traffic circles tend to have higher speeds than roundabouts, which is another reason that the inlaid brick and shared space design of Monument Circle is brilliant.

  11. ahow628 says:

    Also, I’ve found roundabouts to be better for pedestrians.
    .
    Here is an interesting post from a couple of years back:
    http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2010/08/spontaneous-order-on-the-road.html

    • Chris Barnett says:

      Seriously? Crossing Hazel Dell Parkway on foot at a roundabout seems to me to be about as safe as jaywalking at the south foot of the Meridian-Fall Creek bridge: traffic is constantly coming at you from multiple directions and in multiple lanes.

      • ahow628 says:

        I’ve walked on other roundabouts, but not the Hazel Dell ones, so I can’t comment from personal experience. However, looking at Google Maps of the roundabout by Pizzology, it looks like in any one crossing, you only ever have to check for traffic in exactly one direction because there is an island to stop and wait for the other direction.
        .
        Here is the intersection:
        http://goo.gl/maps/lDqE
        .
        Probably the worst thing (if you can call it that) is that the actual crossings are 160 feet from the dead center of the intersection. So if walking north, you would have to curve to the side about 100 feet, cross one lane to an island, cross a second lane, then jaunt 100 feet back to the northbound sidewalk. Doesn’t seem terrible and the jaunt gives you better sitelines, IMO.

        • Aidan says:

          I think that is part of the problem. People don’t want to go the extra 100′ to go to the designated and safer crossing area and are possibly crossing too close to the main circle.

          Now if the people driving who have yet to enter the roundabout, are not letting pedestrians cross, then they need learn some patience and the rules of the road. However, it is in that area…

          • Idyllic Indy says:

            I agree that the entire problem with the pedestrian crossings is the location. The actual crossing itself might be fine, but very few pedestrians will walk 100′ out of their way to get to the official crosswalk. Walking is already the slowest form of transportation. We should not be implementing designs that make it even slower and less convenient by forcing pedestrians to travel farther.

  12. John Howard says:

    I remember one trip around Monument Circle in winter years ago. The bricks were ever so slightly frosted such that going slowly but just a wee bit too fast meant the back wheels would lose traction. It didn’t take much to start ‘drifting’ (as they call it now).

    I wonder how well snowplows will handle them. They always put a nice snow dam across my driveway. I can see that happening across the 4 intersecting street which might be a problem.

  13. J. England says:

    I am familiar with the round a bout on Raceway Road south of Rockville.. It has caused a real safety hazard. We have extensive vehicular traffic coming out of Avon RR yard on to Raceway, and there is NEVER a break in high speed traffic most of the day Returning to a traffic signal would be a big help. In addition, there are an increasing numbers of pedestrians, and between the increased speeds and the narrow squeeze at the RR bridge just south of Meijers it is very……..interesting. The speed up is not wise at all, albeit fashionable.

  14. Curt Ailes says:

    The roundabouts at Clay Terrace are a non-issue on foot but I think its synonyous with a “slow street” environment. There are traffic lights periodically though to control speed between the rounadabouts. I think its a good demonstration of how an urban roundabout might function.
    .
    Regarding the ones located between subdivisions though, I agree with CB. They are two lanes and made to shuffle vehicles through quickly. The perception that they are safe for pedestrians is a myth.

    • Chris Barnett says:

      Curt knows me to be an “aggressive pedestrian”… there is almost no place I won’t try to walk or cross. (Hey, I learned to jaywalk in Philly on its high-speed one-ways, which were then similar to Capitol/Illinois or Michigan/New York.)
      .
      I would never attempt to cross Hazel Dell at or near a roundabout. It takes so much concentration just to drive those things that peds and cyclists don’t have a chance. I’d cross half a mile up.

      • Curt Ailes says:

        Id make another comment. Someone commented further up about roundabouts in Italy. I have driven the urban roundabouts there and its something like the size of Monument Circle, with the speed of Hazel Dell. Scary fast. But at least in those places, there are plenty of other reservations made for pedestrians, so its a non-issue.

  15. John M says:

    I’ll be the pedant and point out that there is an existing roundabout that is partially in Indianapolis, at the intersection of Raceway and Morris on the Hendricks-Marion county line.

    I don’t have a ton of experience with roundabouts as a pedestrian or a cyclist. Mostly, I encounter them when visiting friends and family in suburban counties. What strikes me as one of the dangers is that when driving through one, it is natural to be entirely focused on looking to the left for traffic that is in the roundabout. I try to be conscious of it, but I can easily imagine myself not seeing a pedestrian who is walking “clockwise” across a street while I am locked in on the counterclockwise traffic.

    • 96th Street has several of them. I didn’t count the ones that were at the borders.

      You make a good point about drivers only looking in one direction. Similar dynamics can occur at intersections with one-way streets.

      • Idyllic Indy says:

        Not just for one-way streets though. It’s a huge problem for a pedestrian trying to cross in front of drivers attempting to turn right on red at any intersection. Abolish the turn on red!

    • Idyllic Indy says:

      I wonder if there has been, or ever will be, a roundabout designed with signs indicating that pedestrians are to only walk in a counter-clockwise direction. That would be a trip.

  16. Brett Williams says:

    Carmel did it right when there was a big push of new roundabout construction. There were many articles in the newspaper, many opportunities were utilized to educate citizens on the proper usage.

    I live in a subdivision near the five points and thompson intersection and could not be happier about this. As a former resident of Carmel, I longed for roundabouts, especially in Frawnklin township where traffic sometimes backs up for 1/4 to 1/2 miles at the existing 4-way stops.

    Today, it took me 20 minutes to travel six miles from my home. More than half of that time was spent idling waiting my turn to get through 4-way stops.

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