The Norman Transcript

August 27, 2013

Roundabout revolution could be safer for bikes

By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — One notable city in the Midwest reports that roundabouts have revolutionized its streets. Traffic flows continuously, accidents are reduced and there’s no monthly electric bill to support traffic lights.

But are roundabouts compatible with pedestrians and cyclists?

Navigating roundabouts on bicycles is not difficult, Dan Burden of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute told Norman community and business leaders earlier this summer.

Burden’s vision of a walkable, bicycle friendly Lindsey Street has inspired a spirited dialogue ever since. But how well do bicyclists actually navigate roundabouts in cities?

There’s no better place to look than the bicycle friendly city of Carmel, Ind., for an answer.

Carmel made national headlines for having the most roundabouts of any city in the United States. It began replacing signalized intersections with roundabouts during the 1990s.

Carmel’s 2011 population was 81,564 and the small city is one of the fastest growing in Indiana. It is located just north of Indianapolis and serves a number of executives and their families who strongly favor quality-of-life amenities.

Derek Sitzman, sales manager of Carmel Cyclery Bicycles said the cycling community has had a positive response to the 78 modern, full-size roundabouts in Carmel.

“The only roundabouts where I think there’s a problem is off the highway,” Sitzman said.

Those large roundabouts deal with high traffic volumes and motorists entering at faster speeds, he said.

Roundabouts slow cars down and, in most cases, expert cyclists on road bikes have little trouble merging into the general flow of traffic. However, pedestrians and less experienced cyclists who use the paths rather than the road have a little more concern when trying to cross a roundabout.

“I don’t think drivers look as much for the crosswalks as they do for the cyclists,” Sitzman said. “I think it’s more of a cautious thing. I pay attention, but I notice a lot of people don’t.”

Sitzman said he hasn’t heard of any accidents resulting from the roundabouts.

Carmel Mayor James Brainard said his city has reduced the injury accident rate by 80 percent when contrasted with traffic lights and has reduced all accidents by 40 percent.

Brainard said the roundabouts save fuel because motorists are not stopped at lights. While roundabouts cost more to build, the savings in the cost of traffic signals, their operation and maintenance make up the difference, Brainard said on the city’s website.

Carmel has bike lanes and a number of bike paths. The city also has an alternative transportation coordinator, David Littlejohn. In 2006, Carmel earned a bronze designation for being bicycle friendly — an honor Norman also has earned — from the League of American Bicyclists. The city has been expanding and promoting bicycling in the community since with 125 miles of multi-use paths and greenways.

The city also has about 100 miles of bikeway which connects multi-use paths with local, low-volume streets. Some routes are recreational loops, but the express routes facilitate transportation throughout the city.

Bike parking is available at hundreds of bike racks in Carmel — new businesses are required to put in bike parking. Large events feature bike corrals where people can check their bikes and know they will be safe until the event is over.

While roundabouts for Lindsey Street are still being debated, Carmel may have other useful ideas to inspire Norman as it plans a multi-modal future that includes bicycles.

Joy Hampton