Navigating the notorious Northwest roundabouts

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by ERIC WILKINSON / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on April 11, 2013 at 5:38 PM

Updated Thursday, Apr 11 at 9:11 PM

Looking through the window of her espresso stand over the past year, Jennifer Bjornson discovered a new form of entertainment.

“Little tiny cars cutting off semis,” she said. “People that stop in the middle to let others in.”

“I've seen people go backwards,” added customer Jessica Vick. “It's just a lot of craziness. Crazy people all day long.”

250 roundabouts have been rolled out in Washington since 1997, but the learning curve is steep.

“People are just used to stopping on red and going on green,” said roundabout designer Patrick McGrady of Everett’s Reid Middleton, Inc. “They like to be told what to do, but with the roundabout, you’re in control.”

Roundabouts certainly have some heads spinning, but supporters say navigating them is simple. WSDOT engineer Dina Swires says drivers should just treat them the same way they would a traffic light.

“You have your right lane where you only turn right. You use your other lane if you want to go through or make a left. It’s actually really simple. You just slow down, find your space and merge.”

Swires says the data shows roundabouts improve traffic flow and reduce accidents. She points to a national study showing a 90% reduction in fatal crashes when roundabouts replace red lights.

On Whatcom County’s Guide Meridian Road, state statistics show an 82% drop in injury crashes since four traffic circles were installed there.

“People slow down, so you don’t have those violent t-bone crashes like you have at traffic light,” said McGrady.

They just take some getting used to.

And as drivers around here do, Jennifer Bjornson will be right there watching it all roll by. I wouldn’t say it’s amusing, but it is entertaining. If we're bored, just sit and watch the roundabout for a minute.”

WSDOT has produced a video about how to maneuver your way through traffic circles. You can watch it here:

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