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Looking left: ODOT weighs in on roundabouts. OH Really?

Akron Main Street Roundabout
Kabir Bhatia
/
WKSU
What's the difference between roundabouts, such this one on Main Street in Akron, and traffic circles, such as the one in Tallmadge? ODOT spokesman Justin Chesnic says it starts with the size.

The arrival of cold, snowy weather means the Ohio Department of Transportation will be hitting the pause button on many road construction projects. But that doesn’t mean that our listeners have paused in asking questions about Northeast Ohio transportation projects, and they’ve been sending them into our OH Really? team.

Our first question comes from Will Stolicny, an avid cyclist from Deerfield, which is in southern Portage County. He asks, “If the Ohio Department of Transportation controls aspects of transportation, why are bike trails and walking trails not included in that, since they are part of forms of transportation for the general public, and work with park districts to develop that?”

For the answer, I asked Justin Chesnic, spokesman for ODOT Region 4, which covers the area from Akron and Canton up through the northeast corner of the state, encompassing Youngstown and Ashtabula.

“The interesting thing about Ohio is—a lot of people don't know this—Ohio is what's called a 'Home Rule State.' That means that villages and cities and townships and counties have their own set of roadways that they maintain as well. So ODOT maintains and works on the state routes, U.S. routes and the Interstate routes. That being said, we do have a strong relationship with the local metropolitan planning organizations. If you're in the Akron-Canton area, [it's] AMATS, for example, SCATS is the Canton area. And then out east in our district, in Youngstown, we have the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments.

“We may not be able to directly give them funding and build things for them and maintain things for them, but we can explain to them, and if they ask us for help, we're more than willing to provide that technical assistance. That oversight that says, 'Hey, it looks like you do qualify for certain things. Here's how you go about filling out those applications and obtaining that funding. And here's how you build it."

What's an example of one of those partnerships?

“If you've ever heard of Safe Routes to School, that's a program where cities have their school buildings along a county road or a state route or a township road [saying], ‘Hey, do we need a sidewalk here just so our kids can safely get down the road? Because there's a lot of kids that walk in this school district.’ We provide that technical assistance with them as well.”

One example of a collaboration on road work, as well as an example of a roundabout, is in downtown Akron:

Navigating roundabouts and traffic circles
Our next question is about roundabouts. And before we get to the specific question, maybe you can just clarify for people exactly what a roundabout is.

“When you think of a roundabout, that's basically a four-legged intersection. That intersection might have had stop signs, or it might have had a traffic signal, and there was a pretty consistent crash pattern there that that we saw. That's where you're going to see a roundabout.

“The nice thing about the roundabouts is, number one, they keep traffic moving. Yes, it's going to be at a slower rate of speed. In the past, that intersection you might -- if you had a green light -- have been able to go 45 or 50 miles per hour. Now you're going to go 25 or 30 miles per hour. But they reduce those serious angle crashes drastically; over 80 percent as a matter of fact."

You and I have talked about this in the past, but remind listeners how a roundabout is different from a traffic circle, like the big one in Tallmadge?

“The traffic circle, there's basically about eight different routes that are coming in and all converging in one area, and that forms a much larger circle with a lot more legs to it and a lot more traffic that comes in.”

Now that people know the difference between a traffic circle and a roundabout, the question is from Leslie Graske of Akron.

“My beau and I have traveled all over the world and driven many roundabouts with great success. We are happy to see many roundabouts hitting the Northeast Ohio area, but are astounded that people don't know how to use them."

Chesnic says, "The rules for driving in a roundabout are pretty simple. You're going to yield to traffic that's in that roundabout. When you approach the roundabout, and then you see it in front of you, you're going to want to look to your left. At a traditional intersection, you're going to look to your left and right. Here, you're going to look to your left -- that's where the vehicles are approaching from. If there's someone coming, you're going to just yield, basically, and wait until that traffic goes through. Now you're going to proceed with caution, and you're going to get into the circle. And you're going to have an option of one of three basic exits that you can take within that roundabout.

"Once you're inside that circle, you have the right of way, and folks approaching traffic are going to yield to you while you're inside there."

I decided to drive to Twinsburg and take Justin’s advice. And he’s right: look left, drive slowly, and you’ll be fine.

WKSU’s OH Really? makes you part of the reporting process. Ask your question -- from the serious to the offbeat – at
https://www.wksu.org/oh-really

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Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.