1/4/14 Letter from PPSP to Division/Church Study Project Staff

This is Bob Fisch from Poky Pedaling Stevens Point. I am writing to offer comments regarding the Division/Church Business 51 Improvement Study. This e-mail is the ninth of several I have sent.

I am sending this e-mail to communicate some findings I learned about roundabouts and their impact on people bicycling and walking.

My investigations came as a result of some questions posed to me by Ald. Mike Wiza. Here is what he asked me in an e-mail from 12/17/2013: “Also, I was curious, how do bicycles handle roundabouts? Do you know of any place that has bike lanes with roundabouts? I’d like to know more about how other communities might handle that.”

Yesterday (1/4/14), I sent a reply to him on this topic. I have reproduced my reply below. It indicates who I contacted for help, links to relevant documents, some general synthesis of what I learned from these documents, and a specific example from the proposed alternative designs for the Division/Church corridor that highlight certain design features.

I am sending you this e-mail for several reasons.

First, I thought you would be interested in learning what information I provided to Ald. Wiza.

Also, although I expect you are aware of much that is contained in my response to Ald. Wiza, there may be some resources or findings that you are less familiar with and may want to investigate.

But the main reason I am writing is to express concern about the ability for bike and foot traffic to negotiate multi-lane roundabouts. Here is a quote from a document prepared for the California Dept. of Transportation (link within my comments below) that is representative of the consensus sentiment: “Research indicates that while single-lane roundabouts may benefit bicyclists and pedestrians by slowing traffic, multi-lane roundabouts may significantly increase safety problems for these users, especially those who are disabled.”

From my investigations, single-lane roundabouts, such as the one proposed for the intersection of Division and Fourth, seem to work well for bicycle and foot traffic.

However, multi-lane roundabouts, such as the one proposed for the intersection of Division and NorthPoint, may compromise safety for bicycle and foot traffic. In my comments to Ald. Wiza, the discussion of multi-lane roundabouts and references to documents supporting this conclusion are towards the bottom.

The intersection of Division and NorthPoint lies on the Green Circle Trail between Schmeeckle Reserve and the path to the Stevens Point Sculpture Park. Being on the Green Circle Trail, any potential safety issue for people bicycling and walking across this intersection becomes more important to address.

To be clear, I am not specifically for or against building a roundabout at this intersection.

However, my findings do give me reason for concern if you decide to put a multi-lane roundabout at Division and NorthPoint. For this reason, I want to make the following suggestions.

Please examine the feasibility of making this a single-lane roundabout. From vehicle count data you have provided at past meetings, you report this intersection to have fewer vehicles travelling through it daily than you report for Division and Fourth. Since a single-lane roundabout seems feasible for Division and Fourth, one should also seem feasible for Division and NorthPoint. I realize there may be merging motor vehicle traffic issues on the approaches to such a single-lane roundabout in all four directions. I ask you to consider that implementing a single lane roundabout to improve safety for bike and foot traffic is important enough to balance against the measures taken to encourage motor vehicles to merge safely in advance of a single-lane roundabout.

If a multi-lane roundabout is chosen as the preferred alternative at this intersection, I ask you to put particular emphasis on implementing infrastructure that makes it as safe as reasonably possible for bike and foot traffic to negotiate the multi-lane roundabout. One of the California Dept. of Transportation documents referenced in my comments below makes several suggestions in this regard.

Thank you for taking the time to read my comments. I hope you are able to incorporate my suggestions into your next round of designs for the Division/Church Corridor Study.

Bob Fisch
Poky Pedaling Stevens Point




Text of letter I sent to Ald. Mike Wiza on 1/4/2014:

Hello Mike – I wanted to get back to you about your questions on roundabouts and bicycle access.

I hadn’t read much on this topic before you asked, so I had to ask a few experts for info. Based on that, I also did a bit of web research. I’ll pass along to you what I’ve found.

I heard back from two consultants from the Madison office of Toole Design who are spearheading the Portage County Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan effort. Tom Huber is formerly of WisDOT, and Kevin Luecke formerly worked for the Wisconsin Bike Fed. From the corporate website, “Toole Design Group is the nation’s leading planning, engineering and landscape architecture firm specializing in bicycle and pedestrian transportation.” I’ve had opportunities to talk bikes with Tom and Kevin both within the context of our bike/ped plan as well as at other bicycle-focused meetings and events in Madison. Tom and Kevin are very knowledgeable about implementations of bicycle infrastructure across the US.

I also got feedback from two staff members at the Wisconsin Bike Fed: Deputy Director Dave Schlabowske and Planning Manager Sarah Gaskell. From its website, the mission of the Bike Fed is “to cultivate, motivate and unite a strong community of citizens as well as business and political leaders to move bicycling forward in Wisconsin.” Dave is also the former Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator for the City of Milwaukee. Both Dave and Sarah are extremely familiar with bicycling accommodations in an urban context.

For starters, WisDOT has a webpage on roundabouts:
One of the links on that page is Multimodal Considerations:
(I think the entire roundabout document downloaded for me, but I suspect it is only Chapter 10 on pp. 13-15 that this link should be accessing.) Section 10.1.1 is about walking, and section 10.1.2 is about bicycling. Here is a key sentence from the top paragraph of section 10.1.2: “The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that roundabouts provide a 10 percent reduction in bicycle crashes at 24 signalized intersections that were converted to roundabouts in the U.S.”

This IIHS report is cited by many state DOTs. I found it on the NY state DOT website:
This is not the most interesting read, but I figured I’d give you the source document. This report was published in 2000.

From an easy-to-read standpoint, the best document I found was from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (that’s what Kentucky’s state transportation department is apparently called), entitled Modern Roundabouts 101:
It’s about 5 pages of moderate-font text with engaging diagrams. It sites the same IIHS document with the following statistics:
“The [IIHS] study also found that roundabouts: reduce pedestrian crashes by 30-40% [and] reduce bicycle crashes by 10%.

There is a lot more info about roundabouts in that Modern Roundabouts 101 document. One diagram shows that roundabouts have been implemented in about 40 of the 50 United States.

The IIHS website has a Q&A page about roundabouts:
Under Q11 (How common are roundabouts in the United States?), they report that over 1700 roundabouts have been constructed in the US since 1990.

Another WisDOT webpage indicates that as of early 2012, over 200 roundabouts are operating in Wisconsin:
That page also provides the following link showing the location of each of these roundabouts on a state map:

Dave Schlabowske, who uses a bicycle for the vast majority of his local transportation in Milwaukee, shared the following personal note: “I find [roundabouts] super easy to use and I like them much more than traditional controlled intersections. The roundabout at the south end of the 6th Street Bridge in Milwaukee is a favorite of mine.”

In reference to one of your questions, these statistics show that there are a lot of roundabouts being used by a lot of people on bicycles all over both Wisconsin and the US.

I was a bit unclear on one of the things you were asking so in case it answers it, I want to mention that roundabouts should never have bike lanes within them. As Tom Huber mentions: “Roundabouts should not have marked bike lanes within them and should be tapered to a state of non-existence in the approaches. This is in accordance to the MUTCD.” The MUTCD is the Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices and is the reference ALL traffic engineers in the US use for traffic design. I recall reading that bike lanes are inappropriate within a roundabout because of the complexity of traffic patterns within the roundabout itself. It is safer to bicycle more centrally within the lane within a roundabout.

The following Federal Highway Administration document also recommends against striping bicycle lanes within roundabouts for safety reasons (see Section 6.3):

Tom mentioned that roundabouts are designed so that “some bicyclists will choose to use the roundabout as a vehicle user” – meaning that the person on the bicycle travels in the standard travel lane through the roundabout. For the remaining bicycle riders, roundabout designs create “a circulating path outside the roundabout for those who do not want to use the roundabout itself” – this basically means that bicycle riders follow the same path that people walking use to negotiate the roundabout.

Since roundabouts typically reduce motor vehicle speeds to around 15-25 MPH (see the Modern Roundabouts 101 document), many bicycle riders will be traveling close to the speeds of motor vehicle traffic. Tom Huber uses this same effect to conclude that bicycling in the standard travel lanes is “more viable especially with more straightforward single lane roundabouts.”

To accommodate bicycle riders who want to follow the walking route around the roundabout, Tom mentions that “little on and off ramps are provided” to transition from the street onto the walking path in advance of the roundabout and then back onto the street after negotiating the roundabout.

You can see how this works for the proposed roundabout at Division and Fourth available on the city’s project webpage:
Look at the “4th Ave. Alternative 3” inset to the left. You will want to zoom appropriately to see the detail. The purple delineates street features, whereas the yellow delineates sidewalk features.

Coming southbound on Division, note how the purple bike lane meets a yellow ramp to allow access to the sidewalk near the north edge of the Anchor Bank property. From this point south and around the corner, note that the sidewalk is wider than north of the ramp – this effectively is a multi-use path to handle both bicycle and foot traffic. The crosswalk can be ridden through to cross Fourth and then back onto the widened sidewalk where the gas station currently is. The bicycle rider can then continue around the corner to the tiny yellow ramp about two houses south of the gas station (address 728-A), where the person on the bike can get back to the purple bike lane on the street and continue to head south. And again note that the sidewalk narrows to standard width south of this point.

Every proposed roundabout on all the Division/Church proposed alternative designs have these tiny yellow on- and off-ramps on each corner. Bicycle operators who do not want to stay in the standard travel lanes will always have this “circulating path” option shared with foot traffic.

I want to add a comment about the Village of Plover proposed single-lane roundabout for the intersection of Hwy 54 and Maple just south of Plover Rd. – I believe the roundabout is the preferred alternative for that location. I attended a public meeting run by WisDOT about this intersection several months ago. I asked several questions about bicycle access for this roundabout and learned that this same design with on- and off-ramps and widened sidewalks is planned there. So this design for bicycle access of roundabouts seems standard for WisDOT.

Here is a comment from Kevin Luecke: “In general, single lane roundabouts are considered fine for cyclists (with an accompanying sidepath around it) – this serves most cyclists well. More confident cyclists can easily go through the roundabout while less confident can take the path.” From this statement, he concurs with all of the above.

Kevin goes on to say, “Double lane roundabouts are considerably more problematic for cyclists to navigate while staying on road – speeds are higher and the multiple lanes create more conflicts.”

I have seen this concern about double-lane roundabouts on other websites. Here is a website I found expressing the same sentiment:
Here is a quote from the final paragraph: “In summary, single-lane roundabouts, in particular, can work well for most cyclists and pedestrians if properly designed and implemented…Multi-lane roundabouts that would be found on multi-lane roadways are not going to make these corridors work better for cyclists or pedestrians, but their lower operating speeds have some advantage.”

And here is a report prepared for the California Dept of Transportation studying bicycle and foot traffic safety in multi-lane roundabouts:
From the executive summary: Research indicates that while single-lane roundabouts may benefit bicyclists and pedestrians by slowing traffic, multi-lane roundabouts may significantly increase safety problems for these users, especially those who are disabled.

Sarah Gaskell shared another CalTrans document discussing safety designs for bicycle and foot traffic at intersections. Chapter 8 on pp. 71-78 is about roundabouts:
This document has some nice diagrams illustrating features to improve safety at multi-lane roundabouts.

My searches for more info about bicycles and roundabouts didn’t turn up anything particularly more insightful than what I have shared here.

I hope you find these remarks to be suitable answers to the questions you asked and help you evaluate the pluses and minuses of designing roundabouts for bicycle access.

If you have more questions about roundabouts in general and bicycle access in particular, Tom suggested you contact Pat Fleming of WisDOT. Pat is listed as the contact on the WisDOT webpages I referenced earlier. Here is the contact info from those pages:

Pat Fleming
Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT)
(608) 266-8486

Thank you for taking interest in this topic. I actually learned a great deal in researching this answer, so I appreciate your questions.