Robert’s column

Robert Barron column: Let’s see more roundabouts in the Cowichan Valley

I commend the city planners for their wisdom in installing a roundabout there.

Plans for construction of the City of Duncan’s first roundabout are moving ahead this year.

The city is building one at the intersection of Government, College, and Cairnsmore streets, adjacent to the Fishbowl Cafe. It will total approximately $800,000 for the design and actual construction when completed later this year.

It’s not the first one in the Valley; North Cowichan has been constructing them since the early 2000s and currently has at least 13 within its jurisdiction in efforts to improve safety and traffic flows, including one just a few blocks away on Government Street near the hospital, but it will be Duncan’s first.

I commend the city planners for their wisdom in installing a roundabout there.

Just the day before I learned of the city’s plan for the roundabout, I was at a red light on Cairnsmore Street at the intersection and I have to admit it can be confusing.

It occurred to me that drivers on College Street who were not familiar with the intersection could also think the red light was for them, as it was angled a little toward College Street as well.

When the light turned green, I waited a second just to make sure it was me who had the right-of-way, and not the driver on College Street.

I remember thinking at the time that this was the perfect place for a roundabout and was surprised to come across the staff report on the Cairnsmore roundabout, as it will be officially called, the very next day.

For those unfamiliar with them, roundabouts feature a circular intersection where drivers travel counterclockwise around a centre island.

There are no signals within the circle and drivers must yield to traffic before entering the intersection, and use their indicators when leaving.

I’ve heard many people complain about them, claiming they are unsafe and confusing, but the reality is that we have yet to construct the complex (and sometimes frightening) multi-lane roundabouts in the Valley that are common in Europe, and the ones we have so far are single lane and are quite simple and safe to use once you get used to them.

In fact, studies show that the biggest single cause of accidents at roundabouts is drivers failing to yield to vehicles, and that’s easily remedied with practice and experience.

Once motorists get used to them, traffic flows more smoothly through a roundabout than a traditional intersection with signals, and generally takes less time for motorists to get through the intersection than traffic lights.

As well, numerous studies have concluded that the collisions that do occur at roundabouts are usually less severe than those that occur at intersections with traffic lights, where high-impact collisions can happen when drivers fail to stop for a red light.

Costs to build traffic circles vary depending on size and other considerations, but as they result in far fewer crashes that cause injury and even fatalities than traffic signals, roundabouts produce lower long-term costs to society and don’t require as much maintenance when completed as traffic lights, and only require electricity for lighting at night.

So bring them on, and I hope the governments in the Valley are eyeing more intersections where roundabouts can be put to good use.

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