Will we go round in circles?
Will we go round in circles? BY JEFF HAWKES, Staff Writer
Driving nearly 100,000 miles in a motor home, retiree George Osenburg learned to love roundabouts, the circular intersections springing up around the country.
A retired golf course manager, Osenburg, 68, has become so convinced that roundabouts are safer and more fiscally responsible than signal-controlled intersections, he has been lobbying officials in Penn Township, where he lives, to build them.
Presently, Lancaster County has one roundabout. Constructed in 2004, it is in Manheim Township on lightly traveled East Millport and Kissel Hill roads.
But more roundabouts may be in our future because state and local transportation planners have found they reduce fatalities and enhance traffic flow.
"A roundabout is an option we're going to consider" when intersections require improvement, said Michael Gillespie, a PennDOT assistant executive for southcentral Pennsylvania. In the past 13 years PennDOT has built 20 roundabouts across the state. Another 21 are in the design phase.
In Lancaster County, planners are studying the possibility of roundabouts at accident-prone intersections on Route 272, south of Willow Street.
Dave Royer, county transportation planner, said roundabouts could reduce severe crashes where the highway intersects Pennsy and Byerland Church roads. Another near Willow Street could calm traffic and contribute to a village renewal plan, he said. A traffic study is in the works.
"A lot of Pennsylvanians seem to have negative views of roundabouts they've seen in (New) Jersey," Royer said. "That's kind of tough to overcome."
But the success of recently installed roundabouts in Pennsylvania, such as two built in 2011 in Linglestown, a village just east of Harrisburg, may help change minds, he said.
"They're working quite well for us," said David Johnson, public safety director for Lower Paxton Township, which includes Linglestown. He said the benefits include fewer accidents, less traffic stacking at rush hour, and drivers slowing down through Linglestown.
Marianne Loney, who drives through the Linglestown roundabouts almost daily, said she at first opposed the roundabouts, but she became a believer after seeing how they work.
"I can see how the traffic really flows very well," said Loney, having breakfast at a Linglestown cafe where "I Survived the Linglestown Roundabouts'' T-shirts are for sale. "I like it very much."
Lee Ann Ormsbee runs an insurance agency next to one of the Linglestown roundabouts. She said the roundabout replaced stop signs, making it easier to cross Linglestown Road. She said accidents are rarer now, but tractor-trailers have gotten stuck.
"At first I wasn't for it," said Craig Morrell, a mechanic at a Linglestown garage. "But (traffic flow) has gotten a heck of a lot better."
Osenburg, the Penn Township resident, said he was surprised to see how well roundabouts move traffic in Maryland, South Carolina and elsewhere. He also considers roundabouts a way to reduce infrastructure maintenance costs because they don't require electrical power or signal replacements.
He's extolled the virtues of roundabouts at meetings of the Penn Township supervisors, but he feels officials have given him only "lip service."
Not so, objects Penn Township Manager David W. Kratzer Jr. "We would absolutely consider roundabouts where they are appropriate," he said.
Penn Township is projected to grow 28 percent by 2040. The population increase will create heavier traffic on Manheim Pike, Fruitville Pike and other state roads. Could roundabouts help?
Experts say roundabouts are a useful traffic-management tool. On approaching a roundabout, drivers yield to traffic in the circle, resulting in fewer and shorter traffic-clogging stops that happen at signaled intersections.
Studies show that roundabouts move up to 30 percent more vehicles per hour than signaled intersections. Another notable benefit: They reduce fatal collisions by 90 percent.
Osenburg said he'd like to see a roundabout at Fruitville Pike and Temperance Hill Road, where Penn Township may seek to install traffic signals because of plans for an 180-unit apartment complex.
Daryl Lefever, the township's roadmaster, said traffic signals are warranted at the intersection because of the number of accidents and peak traffic volume.
Township Manager Kratzer said the intersection also will be evaluated for a roundabout, but the site's slopes and the proximity of buildings may make constructing one less feasible. Nonetheless, Kratzer said, the township has "no bias against roundabouts."
"We would absolutely consider them where they make sense," he said.
nRoundabouts instead of signal-controlled intersections could be in our future.