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More roundabouts planned for Central Virginia

By Rachel DePompa - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Get used to them, more roundabouts are on the way for Greater Richmond. VDOT and city traffic engineers say they are the way of the future.

Richmond built three roundabouts last year and has plans for four more. Chesterfield County built one and has another on the way. Roundabouts are often met with mixed reviews, but they get the best grade from the people who make safety their top priority.

Tucked away in Ruckersville, Va., is a place where crashing cars is not only allowed, it's encouraged. It's the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Jim Nolan is vice president of vehicle research. Besides head on collisions, his biggest concern is side impact crashes.

"So this crash, it's a T-bone crash," he said, while watching an instructional video. "It's a perfect example of the kind of crashes that happen at conventional intersections. And this dent on the hood. Is from that person's head. And this is a fatal crash."

Nolan says one way to stop a crash like this is to bring about a roundabout.

"Our studies show an 80 percent reduction in injury producing crashes. At intersections that have been replaced with a roundabout, and a 40 percent reduction in crashes overall," Nolan said.

Richmond's been going round and round at intersections for years, but Monument Avenue is full of traffic circles, not roundabouts. There's a difference.

"Traffic circles are bigger. Like DuPont Circle in Washington. And you're able to navigate those at much higher speeds," said Nolan.

Roundabouts, like the one at Virginia Union University, are only 150 feet across and they force you to slow way down.  

"That curvature is engineered for a controlled speed generally about 20 miles an hour," said the City's Traffic Engineer, Tom Flynn. He adds that roundabouts are not only safer, but they beautify an intersection, cut down on emissions and there's no more waiting at a stop sign wondering who's going next.

Roundabouts actually eliminate one of driving's most dangerous moves... a left turn against oncoming traffic. And, roundabouts are not without their own problems. Many drivers tell us they get confused and wonder who has the right of way.

So, what are the most common types of crashes at roundabouts? Well the experts say it's sideswipes and fender benders where there's not much damage and no injuries.

"You're not having accidents at 30-40 miles per hour, you're having accidents at 15 miles an hour," Flynn said.

A few proposed roundabouts in Richmond have been met with fury and were ultimately scrapped. 

"It's change, this is Richmond. People don't like change in many aspects," Flynn added.  But he said -- like the hundreds under construction around the country -- Richmond will not be left out of the trend. 

"I'm sure you'll see more of them in Virginia in the future," he said.

Roundabouts are not for every road. Experts say they don't work at intersections with extremely high traffic.

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