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Video Addresses Myths About Roundabouts

March 8, 2016

By Luke Porter, Stonebrooke Engineering

Modern roundabouts are a relatively new traffic control method in the State of Minnesota. Engineers and project managers at the state, county, city, and consultant level have noticed that there is some confusion regarding the operation and benefits of roundabouts. In some cases, this confusion, along with misinformation, has led to “roundabout myths” that are prevalent in many public roundabout discussions, publications, and presentations. 

This trend was also noticed by the board members of the Minnesota Local Road Research Board (LRRB). Part of the mission of the LRRB is to perform roadway-related research projects, and to implement the results of that research as products that are useful to Minnesota local agencies. LRRB board members realized that this roundabout confusion could be an opportunity for a research and education project that would benefit not only the general public, but also local agencies that encounter these myths on a regular basis.

In some research applications, the research is performed before the practical application of the results has been decided. However, in this instance, the board members decided early on that an educational video would be the best end product for this research project. A video can be made available as both an online streaming video and as a DVD or Blu-Ray disc for local agency use. Online videos have the potential for user sharing, content engagement, and audience coverage that reports and workshops do not have. In addition, the use of video is becoming increasingly popular in public outreach initiatives such as public open house meetings. In these settings, videos can show engineering subjects in simple, efficient ways, and give attendees the same baseline understanding of the issues being considered.

The LRRB has produced numerous educational videos that were either produced internally or with the help of various consultants. For this project, they selected Stonebrooke Engineering to assist with roundabout myth research, video production, and animated visualizations. Stonebrooke has produced four other videos for the LRRB, on subjects such as bike lane education, rumble strips, and construction zone safety. 

A Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) was formed that included several Minnesota roundabout experts. Stonebrooke and the TAC worked together to identify project goals and purpose, which was to research roundabout myths and develop and publish a 15-minute informational video that identifies the top 10 myths and clears up some of the misunderstandings that exist.

Identifying Roundabout Myths
A project workshop was held at MnDOT Central Office to create a comprehensive list of the modern roundabout myths that would be evaluated for inclusion in this project. The majority of the list came from engineers and project managers who had encountered these myths on their own roundabout projects. Some of the myths on the list were similar and were grouped together to convey a broader idea. The final list included 19 modern roundabout myths. 

The top 10 myths were identified using a voting system, where each roundabout expert received 10 points to allocate to the myths however they liked. They could give all of their points to one myth, one point each to 10 separate myths, or any combination in between. The top 10 myths, shown in descending order, as well as those not making the top 10 are identified below:

Top 10 Myths:

  1. Roundabouts are built too small (trucks and busses cannot drive through roundabouts without driving over the concrete “curb” on the inside).
  2. Roundabouts are not safe for pedestrians and bicyclists (especially senior citizens).
  3. Roundabouts cause more crashes.
  4. I’ve driven roundabouts on the east coast and they don’t work (Roundabouts, traffic circles, and rotaries are all the same thing).
  5. Roundabouts are confusing, particularly for younger and older drivers.
  6. Roundabouts are great because I never have to stop and can merge into traffic as I enter.
  7. Construction cost of roundabouts is higher than traffic signals and more right of way and impact to adjacent property owners is required.
  8. If I use the “inside” or left lane, I can never get out of the roundabout.
  9. Roundabouts have a negative impact on businesses (volumes drop because people avoid, medians may prevent direct access from both directions, parking concerns, etc.).
  10. Roundabouts make it more difficult for traffic at nearby intersections and driveways to turn onto the road due to reduction in downstream gaps.

Myths Not Making the Top 10:

  • There is more delay for pedestrians at a roundabout.
  • Roundabouts have less capacity and can’t handle large volumes of traffic.
  • You should stop on the inside of a roundabout if an emergency vehicles is approaching.
  • I’m supposed to use my turn signal when exiting a roundabout.
  • I can make a “left turn” by entering a multi-lane roundabout in the right lane.
  • Roundabouts don’t work on signalized corridors.
  • Roundabouts might work at low speed intersections, but don’t work well at high speed rural locations.
  • The public will never accept roundabouts.
  • Operational costs, such as plowing and landscaping, are higher at roundabouts compared to traffic signals.
Research, Interviews, and Video Production
After identifying the 10 roundabout myths that would be featured in the video, the next step was to perform research and data gathering. This was accomplished through an analysis of existing roundabout materials, and also through interviews with roundabout technical experts. The existing materials that were reviewed include the roundabout chapters of the MnDOT Road Design Manual, studies from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the National Roundabout Guide (NCHRP Report 672), and Washington County’s “Roundabout U” outreach program. These materials, combined with the roundabout knowledge of Stonebrooke staff, provided the background information needed to write the video script and draft a series of interview questions for each myth.

The TAC nominated three Minnesota roundabout technical experts to be interviewed as part of this project: Joe Gustafson (Washington County traffic engineer), Ken Johnson (MnDOT traffic engineer), and Jodie Tiech (Stearns County engineer). All three candidates accepted, and their interview footage was woven into the final video. 

The interview questions were designed to obtain a full understanding of each myth from a technical perspective, which could then be edited down later and combined with animated visuals as needed. For example, the following questions were used for the myth that roundabouts are not safe for pedestrians and bicycles:

  1. What safety benefits do roundabouts have for pedestrians? For bicycles?
  2. How are roundabouts safer for pedestrians than stop lights?
  3. What are pedestrian refuges, and how do they differ from roundabouts to stop lights?
  4. What is the proper way for a pedestrian to cross a roundabout?
  5. How are roundabouts better for elderly or disabled pedestrians?
  6. How should a cyclist navigate a roundabout?

Stonebrooke’s production crew conducted the interviews on location using movie studio quality equipment. The interview with Joe Gustafson was filmed overlooking a multi-lane roundabout in Woodbury, with live traffic operating in the roundabout behind Joe. 

In addition to the roundabout technical experts, interviews were performed with Mayor Sarah Jane Nichols from the City of Sartel and Lieutenant Tiffani Nielson from the State Patrol. These interviews addressed the myths from a non-technical perspective.

Stonebrooke also conducted on-the-street interviews with members of the general public to gain their perspective on roundabouts and to confirm the existence of certain roundabout myths. These interviews demonstrate some of the confusion that exists regarding this form of traffic control, and were used in the final video to introduce each myth. 

Finally, the production crew  filmed general traffic operations at several local roundabouts. In addition to ground-level video, bird’s eye video was obtained at the Woodbury Drive/Bailey Road multi-lane roundabout. This was made possible by Washington County Public Works contributing staff and a bucket truck to lift the camera operator above the roundabout, where he filmed operations from above. A special trip was also made to film the 66th Street roundabouts in Richfield due to their close proximity to local businesses. 

Animated Visualizations
During the post production process, Stonebrooke staff identified areas of the video that would benefit from animated visualizations in order to better communicate the ideas.

Stonebrooke’s in-house graphics department created animations for the following items:
  • A visual comparison of a traffic circle versus a roundabout.
  • A vehicle animation showing the severity of t-bone crashes at a traffic signal.
  • A comparison of the gaps in traffic created by both traffic signals and roundabouts.
  • A size comparison of the project area used by a traffic signal versus a roundabout.
Two Versions of the Video
The final Roundabout Myths video was approximately 15 minutes in length. While this comprehensive video is useful for agency web sites, training seminars, and public open house meetings, Stonebrooke proposed that a second version of the video be created that only included the top three myths. This shorter 6-minute video would be more appropriate for social media sharing. 

Both versions of the video were uploaded to the LRRB YouTube page, and public agencies could choose either version from there, or request a copy of either version from Stonebrooke Engineering. MnDOT also reached out to members of the City Engineers Association of Minnesota (CEAM) and Minnesota County Engineers Association (MCEA) and provided them with links to the videos for their own use.

Both videos are posted below.

Full Version:

Short Version:

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