Middletown Planning Board Member Defends Roundabouts Vote

The following Letter to the Editor was submitted by Middletown Planning Board member Richard Adams.

At the July 18, the Council was briefed by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) on options for improving the intersections of East and West Main Streets (2 Mile Corner) and West Main and Coddington Highway. 

Two options were presented: 1) install additional traffic lanes and signals, and 2) install traffic roundabouts at both intersections.

Previously, the Middletown Planning Board had to recommend the installation of modern roundabouts. 

As a member of the Planning Board, it may be useful to explain how I arrived at my decision, especially since at least one member of the Town Council suggested that the Planning Board decision was reached in “10 - 15 minutes.”  I do not think that is an accurate characterization of the way the Planning Board does its work.

The idea of roundabouts at these intersections was the outgrowth of the recently completed Aquidneck Island Traffic Study, produced by the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission. Conducted over almost two years, the Study received over 3,000 comments and was the subject of four public workshops, innumerable interviews, email and website comments.  Roundabouts were, almost from the beginning of the study, included as an option for poorly working intersections.

The Traffic Study was discussed with all island Councils and was the subject of regular Planning Board briefings. Over the last two years, RIDOT provided the Board with two briefings on roundabout design and operation as well as roundabout experience. The Middletown Planning staff provided extensive information and I conducted my own research on roundabout experience, which I shared with the Board.

What, then, is the evidence and facts that were available to the Board and formed the basis of the Board’s unanimous decision in favor of roundabouts?

There are now about 2,500 roundabouts in the US. Extensive data from state Departments of Transportation, the Insurance Institute for Safety, and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) data are available for installed roundabouts - and the results are consistent.

Automobile Safety is substantially improved.  Roundabouts eliminate crossing conflicts, reducing the total number of traffic conflict points, particularly “T-Bone” crashes caused by racing to beat the light, failure to stop at all, or quick left turns in front of oncoming traffic.

Roundabouts reduce total crashes about 35% and injury crashes about 76%. Severe injuries and fatalities are rare, with one study reporting 89% reduction in these crashes and another reporting 100% reduction in fatalities.

Improvements in bicycle and motorcycle safety are less impressive, but they still show significant improvements. Studies in Europe found injuries to cyclists decreased on average anywhere from 5 to over 70%.

Data also show that pedestrian safety is improved. This may seem counter-intuitive, but the properly designed roundabout does several things which improve pedestrian safety. A roundabout slows traffic to 20-25 mph, limits the number of lanes to be crossed, allows the walker to deal with only one direction of traffic, provides a "pedestrian refuge" between traffic lanes and probably most important, improves the predictability and visibility of vehicle traffic.

Studies conducted by the Insurance Institute for Traffic Safety and others reported significant improvements in traffic flow from roundabouts.  Vehicle delays were reduced 13-89% and stopped vehicles 14-56%, wide ranges, but reflecting the ability of roundabouts to improve traffic flow and, as an added benefit, reduce automobile emissions by reducing stops, idling and acceleration.

Studies indicate that drivers are often skeptical, or opposed, to roundabouts when they are proposed.  However, opinions quickly change when drivers become familiar with them.  In general, about 30% of drivers support roundabouts before construction, compared with 60-70% after use.

RIDOT simulations of the proposed Middletown roundabouts are consistent with the experience of other states. The RIDOT simulation predicts the total number of crashes will decrease from an average of 58 per year to 30 (48% reduction).  Average injury crashes are expected to decrease from 8 to 6 (25% reduction).

Traffic delays are predicted to be reduced by over 50% and the overall Level of Service to improve from "C" or “D” to "A" or "B".  (Level of Service is a grade assigned to an intersection reflecting traffic flow, safety and other factors. LOS’s range from A to F).

These are the some of the reasons and the data that I, and other members of the Board, considered before voting to recommend roundabouts as the better option for the intersections of East and West Main and Coddington. It was a well-researched decision.


Richard Adams

Middletown Planning Board Member

Jasper July 21, 2011 at 09:34 PM
I don't have much faith in the planning board considering how they have added to the traffic problem. Intersections like wyatt rd where dunkin donuts is, is a nightmare, east main aquidneck, all of west main from green lane to Newport. No flowing traffic, plenty of left turn traffic jams. Grow, grow grow but don't spend the money on infrastructure to accommodate growth.
Debbie July 25, 2011 at 04:43 PM
My opinion is that back to back roundabouts do not seem to be a good idea in the area of 2 mile corner and East Main & Coddington highway. I don't know why we just widen the road in that area making dedicated lanes for left and right similar to what Middletown did in the Valley Road East Main Road area. That seems to go very well, and it looks nice. Walls were built around some of the business areas. Why can't we do the same as that ? and it will cost alot less - Also I was at that meeting in July and the DOT had a very nice "simulation" of traffic in a roundabout, but I do not belive I saw any vehicles turning left or right into businesses that are located on West Main Road, i.e. Taco Bell, Papa Gino's, Walgreens, Bank of Newport etc. It only shows traffic going THROUGH the roundabout, all at the same speed with no exceptions, I am not sure that was a realistic simulation. Debbie
Kelly July 26, 2011 at 02:03 AM
I'm afraid Mr. Adams needs to recheck his data. The majority of roundabouts that are part of the "extensive research" he cites are single-lane roundabouts, replaced intersections with stop signs, and are not heavily congested. That means that all the impressive statistics really don't apply to the multi-lane roundabouts planned to replace signalized intersections in Middletown. Dig into the studies cited by state Departments of Transportation, the Insurance Institute for Safety, etc. and you'll find multi-lane roundabouts are poorly represented. Those that do appear don't perform terribly impressively. And even the FHWA openly acknowledges that they're not particularly bike or pedestrian friendly: "That said, roundabouts are not always safer than other alternatives: 1.For multilane roundabouts, cycling safety at roundabouts has been found in some international studies to be poorer than at other intersections unless separate cycling or multi–use paths are provided around the outside of the roundabout. 2.Pedestrians, especially visually impaired or blind pedestrians, can have difficulty when trying to judge gaps in traffic across entries or exits with more than one lane." A "well-researched decision"? Apparently not!
Michael K Murphy July 26, 2011 at 11:11 AM
Jasper I recently sat pondering that intersection, and that would be high on my list of possible roundabout locations, you could actually take out the lights at Wyatt rd, and Aquidneck put in one turn for the Bank & DD, etc. and that may work musch better. Putting Back to Back Roundabouts at the junctions of the main traffic arteries on this Island is putting a lot of faith in "blanket" DOT statistics. This will become one the most Complicated & Confusing Intersection in New England. The alternative plan with dedicated left turn lanes and timed turn signals is a major upgrade to what we have now it's safer than what we have now and proven in the area in which it would be installed. I do not Challenge Mr Adams integrity though, I just do not agree with his solution


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