From unsafe intersections and traffic congestion to distracted drivers, roadways can present many hazards for both motorists and the individuals working on and around them to maintain our nation’s critical infrastructure. At the heart of Flagger Force’s approach to protecting our team, clients, and community is a Safety-Driven® culture that spans our job sites and merges with our everyday lives.
As part of our commitment to keeping our communities moving, we are honored to collaborate with organizations who share similar values and continuously seek the latest innovations in roadway safety, like roundabouts which have played a critical role in reducing crash severity and saving lives in Pennsylvania. We recently had the opportunity to connect with Jeffrey Bucher, P.E., Chief of the Highway Design and Technology Division for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), to discuss how roundabouts are reducing fatalities, injuries, and crashes.
Jeff has been the Chief of the Highway Design and Technology Division within the Bureau of Design and Delivery since April 2022. In this position, he oversees several sections and units to support project development, highway design, and quality assurance. Jeff has also served as the Department’s Statewide Roundabout Coordinator since 2010. As the Statewide Roundabout Coordinator, he is responsible for providing guidance to the Districts on the design of roundabouts and keeping them up to date on current national guidance and best practices in roundabout design. He works with the District Roundabout Coordinators to advance the implementation of roundabouts throughout the state. Jeff graduated from Penn State in 1989 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Civil Engineering.
See what Jeff Bucher shared during our recent conversation to learn how PennDOT creates safer roadways in communities statewide.
What are the benefits of roundabouts?
Jeff: Roundabouts offer many safety benefits. When entering a roundabout, vehicles are geometrically restricted to a reduced speed. Because of flared entries, in single-lane roundabouts, vehicles should only travel about 25 miles per hour. With the flared-angled entry, any crashes that do occur are typically sideswipes or minor fender-benders at low speeds. Whereas at stop or signal-controlled intersections, we see more T-bone collisions and crashes that tend to be much more severe.
Roundabouts also offer operational benefits. They typically can operate up to 30% more efficiently than stop or signal-controlled intersections. At off-peak times, there is essentially no delay since motorists do not have to stop for a traffic signal to go through its cycle. With fewer vehicles sitting, there is the additional benefit of reduced emissions. Some communities install roundabouts to help with traffic calming and the beautification aspect as well.
What data does PennDOT collect on roundabouts?
Jeff: Every September, PennDOT releases data for single-lane and multi-lane roundabouts, where we have at least three years of before-and-after crash data. We want at least three years of data so we have an adequate representative sample. The data includes roundabouts at locations where there were previously signal or stop-controlled intersections. We have department data from 2003 through 2022, which is obtained from police-submitted crash reports and weighted based on the number of before and after years. To date, we have 78 roundabouts on our state system, but only 42 meet the data qualifications. Every year, as more roundabouts meet our criteria, our list expands.
What did this year’s roundabout research reveal specific to fatalities, injuries, and crashes?
Jeff: According to our department data, which evaluated 36 single-lane and six multi-lane roundabouts in Pennsylvania, fatalities, injuries, and crashes decreased overall. Our research identified the following:
- Crashes involving suspected serious injuries were reduced by 24%.
- Crashes involving suspected non-serious injuries were reduced by 51%.
- The total number of crashes were reduced by 3%.
What is the history of roundabouts in Pennsylvania?
Jeff: The Federal Highway Administration has been promoting roundabouts since the mid-1990s due to their safety and operational benefits. In Pennsylvania, we built our first roundabout in 2005. Now, we build around 10 roundabouts each year that are open to traffic on our state roadway system. States like Florida, Washington, and Wisconsin take the lead regarding roundabout implementation, and in Pennsylvania we are progressing fairly well at implementing them. Our roundabouts are helping enhance safety and operations.
What is the selection process for determining where roundabouts will be installed?
Jeff: In 2018, PennDOT implemented an intersection control evaluation process that helps us select the appropriate intersection treatment for any given location. The evaluation process factors in costs, delays to motorists, crash and injury projections, and so forth. Based on the findings, we determine if intersection upgrades should be made or if a roundabout should be installed.
What circumstances may prevent a roundabout from being installed?
Jeff: Roundabouts may not always be the best option for a specific intersection. There are several factors to consider, including if the surface is level. We typically avoid installing roundabouts on an angled plane of more than 4% because you can run into the issue of trucks rolling over or their loads shifting. Additionally, it is important to consider the space needed to install a roundabout. Circulating roadways tend to take up more space than a standard signalized intersection, so ensuring there is enough space to install the roundabout is key. However, the legs may be narrower than what is needed for a signalized intersection as additional approach turn lanes may not be needed.
Other circumstances that may prevent a roundabout from being installed include the proximity to a signalized intersection or railroad crossing. If traffic from a nearby intersection or railroad crossing stacks up in the roundabout it can cause excessive delays for cross traffic.
What tips do you have for motorists and pedestrians who navigate single-lane or multi-lane roundabouts?
Jeff: For single-lane roundabouts, the maximum daily capacity is around 25,000 vehicles. If more traffic travels through the roundabout on a daily basis, it may need to be upgraded to a multi-lane roundabout, however, we are cautious about where we install multi-lane roundabouts as they tend to cause more confusion for drivers. When navigating any roundabout, it is important to proceed slowly. Adhere to the yield conditions when approaching a roundabout. The circulating traffic has the right-of-way over the entering traffic, so drivers should wait until there is a gap for them to move into. It is important vehicles never stop once in the circulating roadway. All motorists should keep moving until they reach their exit.
For multi-lane roundabouts, the main key is to not pass trucks. Trucks tend to use both lanes when moving through a roundabout to avoid smaller vehicles getting into their blind spots. When cars try to squeeze past the truck, they can get sideswiped because the truck cannot see them. Also, motorists who are making a left turn should be in the left lane, just like at a typical intersection. It is important to avoid entering the far-right lane and then expecting to switch over to make a left turn once in the circulating roadway.
For bicyclists or pedestrians traveling through a roundabout, there are special considerations. Roundabouts do not feature bike lanes, but since they are slow-speed intersections, bicyclists can pedal through the circulating roadway with the traffic. Some roundabouts have multi-use paths around them, so bicyclists could also pedal around the roundabout. As for pedestrians, roundabouts tend to be safer than other types of intersections because when crossing, vehicles are only coming from one direction at a time. There is a splitter island between the lanes, so once pedestrians cross one direction of traffic, they have a refuge area on the splitter island and can wait there until there is a gap to proceed across the opposing direction of traffic. There are also pedestrian crossing signs provided and at multi-lane approaches, there are often pedestrian activated rectangular rapid flashing lights attached to the pedestrian crossing sign to help warn motorists of individuals that are crossing.
How have Pennsylvania residents responded to the increase in roundabouts?
Jeff: When we first started installing roundabouts, there was typically significant resistance and pushback from the public. But now that we have quite a few of them spread across the state and people see the safety benefits and how easy they are to use, public acceptance has increased. As part of the project development and public involvement process, we do reach out to the communities where roundabouts will be installed and host public meetings to make them aware of what is happening and allow them to offer input.
What initiatives has PennDOT implemented to educate motorists about safe driving habits?
Press Office: PennDOT focuses on data trends to drive enforcement and education improvements and invests approximately $23.5 million annually in federal grant funds statewide to support these behavioral safety programs.
PennDOT’s Community Traffic Safety Projects (CTSP), supported by the Highway Safety Office as part of federal pass-through grants with county governments, deliver educational messaging focused on a variety of tactics such as community events, school programs, and media events in collaboration with PennDOT’s District Safety Press Officers (SPOs). The CTSPs and SPOs interact with the public on a variety of behavioral highway safety issues year-round, including aggressive driving, distracted driving, impaired driving, motorcycle safety, seat belt safety, teen driver safety, older driver safety, bicycle safety, and pedestrian safety, to name a few.
PennDOT’s safety partners also collaborate with local and state law enforcement, often delivering educational programming in coordination with high-visibility enforcement campaigns. Additionally, PennDOT pairs paid advertising with annual awareness and enforcement campaigns on topics including speeding, distracted driving, seat belt usage, and impaired driving.
What other infrastructure improvements are being considered to help create safer roadways in Pennsylvania?
Press Office: PennDOT focuses on infrastructure improvements to roadways in an effort to further reduce fatalities and serious injuries. Approximately $482 million in Federal Highway Safety Improvement Program funds has been invested in 337 unique safety projects from 2017 to 2022. During that same timeframe, another $50 million of state funds was invested in low-cost safety improvements at over a thousand locations. Examples of low-cost safety countermeasures include centerline and edge-line rumble strips and high friction surface treatments.
At Flagger Force, we are pleased to connect with other professionals and organizations to enhance roadway safety and ensure our employees and community members make it home safely each day. We want to thank the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation for making this thoughtful discussion possible. And we thank Jeffrey Bucher for providing guidance and advancing the installation of roundabouts throughout the state to help keep our communities moving safely.