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Doubling-Down on Roundabouts

Town of Truckee plans seven more traffic circles
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We all have stories of out-of-towners who can’t seem to get it right. You know the ones, the drivers who stop right in the middle of the roundabout to let you enter, which is nice, but wrong. Or those who don’t even bother to look on their way in, blasting through the circle, oblivious to any other cars. At least it’s easy to spot the tourists in our town!

I personally love roundabouts, also known as traffic circles. Sometimes I’ll skip my exit and just go around and around. Is that legal?

I like them so much I have a hard time fully stopping at stop signs. Now, I know that’s illegal.

Fully on the roundabout bandwagon, Truckee now has seven, last I counted. Does seven seem excessive for a small town? What if I told you Truckee plans to add seven more in the next several years?

Roundabouts seem to be popping up all around Tahoe these days. It feels like Kings Beach has become one long roundabout.

Some folks love the new sidewalks, bike lanes, and traffic circles in Kings Beach. Others say all this slows down their commute or ruins our “mountain charm.”

Roundabouts have been all the rage in Europe since the beginning of the twenty-first century. However, what was popular over yonder initially created much confusion — and some comedy — in the States. Even our entertainment industry poked fun with a scene in National Lampoon’s European Vacation, and another in The Simpsons. Both are hilarious examples of what we sometimes see in our Truckee roundabouts. And both can be found on YouTube.

But, really, why roundabouts, anyway? Well, they’re said to be considerably safer and improve traffic flow. One online report shows the occurrence of injury collisions cut in half. The main benefit of a roundabout is that it makes people slow down. I suppose it’s hard to have a serious collision when you’re going extremely slow. A side benefit is roundabouts are better for the environment, as cars don’t sit idling as long.

Approximately 3,500 modern roundabouts are in place in the U.S., with most having been constructed after 1990. That’s about 134 per year. Not too shabby.

A few published community surveys have shown opposition prior to construction, then jump to high approval after completion. Yet that doesn’t seem to disrupt the next round of opposition for the next roundabout. Change can be hard for some folks, but the stats show this is a better and safer method of traffic control. So why fight it?

Over lunch one day I asked my friend on the Truckee police force if out-of-towners can successfully navigate our circles of confusion. He laughed and said, “Yeah, [and] the town plans to build a bunch more.”

A bunch more?

A Town of Truckee plan called Envision DPR is slated to dramatically change the Donner Pass Road corridor on the west side of town, around Wild Cherries. The project includes streetscape beautification, bike lanes, upgraded pedestrian sidewalks and crossings, and yup, you guessed it — more roundabouts.

You have to dig pretty deep into the Town’s website to find the illustration showing seven more roundabouts along Donner Pass Road from Coldstream Road east to Frates Lane.

The town has already held two well-attended public meetings on the Envision DPR project. The project will be partially funded by a $1.5 million grant from the federal Highway Safety Improvement Program. So, planning and public input are well underway.

When cornering the Town of Truckee Manager Tony Lashbrook at Rotary last month, he confessed the renovation plan wouldn’t likely get going until 2018 — and may only include a Northwoods Boulevard roundabout.

But I recently noticed Caltrans surveyors wandering around in front of Truckee High School from my office window overlooking Donner Pass Road. It may become a reality sooner than later.

Regardless of the final number of roundabouts, Envision DPR seems like an ambitious plan. And, like in Kings Beach, new bike lanes, sidewalks and all the pros and cons people already talk about over by the lake will come to our town. But let’s face it, all this development is better for our community. Safer roads for driving, cycling, and walking, this is something Truckee needs.

This level of construction will likely disrupt the traffic patterns for months, if not years. But we all survived the downtown and West River work this year — and the majority of feedback appears positive from what I’ve been hearing.

Envision DPR will take time and a lot of money. But I, for one, look forward to the day I can just drive in circles down Donner Pass Road from one end of Truckee to the other.

Just don’t tell my cop friend.

 
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Reader comments so far...

ScottRAB's picture

ScottRAB | Portland
All modern roundabouts like the ones in Truckee have been built since 1990, since 1990 is the first time any were constructed (Summerlin, NV). Many people confuse other and older styles of circular intersections with modern roundabouts. East coast rotaries, large multi-lane traffic circles (Arc D’Triomphe, Dupont Circle), and small neighborhood traffic circles are not modern roundabouts. If you want to see the difference between a traffic circle, a rotary (UK traffic roundabout) and a modern roundabout (UK continental roundabout), go to http://www.k-state.edu/roundabouts/photos.htm to see pictures. The Brits even call a merry-go-round a kid’s roundabout.

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May 12, 2017