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    Tuesday, January 31, 2023

    Improving safety in a roundabout way

    Ever accelerate to beat the red light after seeing the traffic light at an intersection turn yellow? Ever start through an intersection when the light turns green only to be forced to slam on the brakes to avoid a whizzing vehicle that beat the red light from their side of the intersection?

    It’s a safe bet that most drivers are familiar with both these scenarios.

    In addition to those dangerous behaviors, here are some other not-uncommon possibilities: drivers that weave around cars stopped at red lights so they can drive through the intersection despite the signal, drivers that purposely get in the wrong lane at an intersection so they can beat other cars through once the light turns, and drivers that create their own turning lanes at intersections where there are no such designated lanes.

    Traffic roundabouts greatly reduce or eliminate these dangerous maneuvers along with the serious accidents that can be common at intersections. Despite this, proposals to install several roundabouts in southeastern Connecticut have met with skepticism and downright opposition from local residents. Earlier this month, for example, a plan to replace the intersection at Broad and Williams streets in New London faced mixed opinions from residents who attended a public hearing on the proposal.

    While many of the risky, aggressive and accident-causing maneuvers at intersections involve vehicle acceleration, roundabouts have been found to be much safer because they force vehicles to slow down. There’s simply no way to get through a roundabout without slowing down.

    Drivers in many countries, including those throughout the United Kingdom, have known for decades that roundabouts are much safer than cross-style intersections controlled by lights or stop signs. Many western European countries saw accident rates drop precipitously after roundabouts replaced intersections, according to information from the Federal Highway Administration.

    The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety cites studies in the U.S. that show when roundabouts replaced other styles of intersections, accidents with injuries dropped by as much as 80%. One study of 19 higher speed rural intersections found the number of accidents fell by 62% after the intersections were replaced by roundabouts. Accidents with injuries decreased by 85%.

    In addition to increased safety, studies show roundabouts improve traffic flow. Traffic lights cause lines of backed up cars, while traffic merges in and around roundabouts more quickly and efficiently.

    Here in the Land of Steady Habits, however, not all residents are ready to accept this overwhelming evidence. In Norwich, a plan to install six roundabouts on a stretch of Route 82 met with much opposition earlier this fall. State transportation officials decided to reassess those plans.

    In New London, some residents at the recent public hearing pointed out that there once was a roundabout at Williams and Broad streets. They said they were eager for a new one to be built there. Others, however, voiced concerns about both the need to rebuild the intersection and the safety of a roundabout at the location.

    City officials pointed out that between 2018 and 2021, 16 crashes occurred at the intersection. Of those, one proved fatal and two others caused serious injuries.

    In another part of the city a roundabout is now being built at the intersection of Jefferson Avenue and Chester Street, near New London High School. The $3.2 million Williams and Broad streets roundabout, which would be paid for by the state, would be constructed beginning in the spring of 2024 if the plans move forward.

    We support the planned replacement of dangerous intersections with roundabouts, including the one proposed at Williams and Broad streets. Studies clearly show roundabouts improve safety for both motorists and pedestrians.

    If the studies aren’t convincing enough, look at existing roundabouts in southeastern Connecticut. The Routes 82 and 85 roundabout in Salem functions smoothly, for example, as have the two roundabouts at Willetts and Pequot avenues and Shaw and Howard streets in New London.

    The additional roundabouts in New London will improve safety and end some of the most risky intersection driving behavior that is now all too common. We look forward to the day when traffic is forced to slow down to maneuver roundabouts instead of accelerating to beat intersection traffic signals.

    The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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