by Jim Bulls
In the last century they were known as traffic circles, and the most well-known in our area was Bakersfield’s gateway to Highway 99. Thousands of mid-westerners fleeing the dustbowl entered the San Joaquin Valley via this traffic circle. Built in 1932, it has gone unchanged and was bypassed when the new Freeway 99 was built.
Closer to home is the traffic circle on Visalia’s Court Street, where the old Dinuba highway entered town, and then there is the traffic circle in Fresno at the southeast corner of Roeding Park where Golden State and Belmont intersect. But this is the new millennium and we call them roundabouts now.
Although traffic circles and roundabouts use a circular design, they operate very differently. Traffic circles are very large and are designed for high-speed vehicle operation. Roundabouts are designed as small as possible, just 16 to 180 feet wide, and operate at 15 mph to 25 mph. The design forces drivers to slow down as they approach and then limits the circulating and exit speed.
According to Roundabouts U.S.A., there were over 2300 roundabouts in the United States by 2009. The first roundabout was built in 1992 in Florida. Utah leads the U.S. in the number of roundabouts in one state. California cities with roundabouts include Los Alamitos, Tracy, Santa Barbara, Truckee, and Modesto. Davis leads the state with five, but the roundabout with the highest volume of traffic is in Long Beach at the intersection of Lakewood and the Pacific Coast Highway. Cal-Trans currently proposes a roundabout at the intersection of State Route 145 and Jensen Avenue, near the City of Kerman.
Admittedly, roundabouts aren’t the answer to every intersection, but there are a lot of advantages. Vehicles rarely sit at idle polluting the atmosphere. There are no switch gears to maintain or lights to change. Modern roundabouts are safer for pedestrians because of slower vehicles and refuge islands that break pedestrian crossings into two halves, and you cope with vehicles approaching from just one direction at a time.
As a retired school bus driver, I was skeptical about how buses and 18-wheeled semi- trucks were going to be able to navigate the turns of Reedley’s new roundabout. This particular intersection is a main entry point to Reedley from Dinuba and Orange Cove, besides being very busy with trucks hauling agricultural produce, tractors or farm equipment. I can now see that it does work. Noe Martinez, Engineer for the City of Reedley, says that the roundabout has met all the City’s expectations and they are well pleased with the outcome.
Of course there are still a lot of people who remain skeptical even now. The “spit and whittle” club I have coffee with in the morning still aren’t convinced it was the right thing to do, but they are also skeptical of any change that has taken place after 1959. In fact, of the people I talked with, women tended to be more positive about the roundabout than men were. I think that means that as the public becomes more adept at using the roundabout, the skepticism has diminished.
I do have a concern about The Oaks, the business that sits on the northeast corner of the intersection. It seems like the roundabout has made servicing this store by fuel trucks, etc. just a little harder, not to mention difficult to get to for customers. I hope loyal customers will continue to be loyal.
The roundabout has one final test to pass. Most of you know that when approaching any intersection, the road will be marked with double center lines warning you not to pass. The double lines play an important role during the season of tule fog when there are times you can’t see more than five to ten feet in front of you. Now, let’s throw the roundabout into the equation. Stay tuned for that update!
Check out this video that shows the city engineer, mayor and others talking about the roundabout, while showing traffic in action.