Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-part series on roundabouts in Carmel, Ind. Sarasota City Editor Robin Roy spent two days of non-stop driving in the Indianapolis suburb, which has 42 roundabouts.
The drive from the Indianapolis airport to Carmel, Ind., was much like that of any major U.S. city — find the interstate, forge ahead for several miles, find your exit and hit the ramp.
But what I encountered after the ramp at Exit 31 of Interstate 465 was unlike any driving experience I’ve had anywhere in the country.
Let me first say, I’m no novice behind the wheel. In the 24 years since I first acquired a license, I’ve lived in 11 U.S. cities, gone cross-country five times and driven in 35 states and eight other countries. But the two days spent driving in Carmel, a suburb 23 miles north of Indiana’s capitol, was entirely unique.
At the direction of Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard, Carmel has installed 42 roundabouts within its 17-square-mile borders. Dozens more are planned, and Brainard has said he foresees a future Carmel with no traffic lights at all.
Sarasota is in the process of designing, planning or discussing 11 roundabouts — each one of them a source of controversy among mainland and barrier-island residents.
Public sentiment was the same in Carmel when the first roundabouts were built in 1997. But, after seeing their commute times reduced, most residents have become converts. Brainard estimates 90% of Carmel residents now prefer to drive on roundabout roads.
Tony Bumgarner, manager of Porter Paints, in Carmel, is one of those converts. He said his commute from southeast Indianapolis has been trimmed by 10 to 15 minutes. The only drawback for him is the cost to build the roundabouts and that roads are closed during construction.
The average cost to build a roundabout is $800,000, which is $150,000 less than the cost to improve an intersection with stoplights. It’s $300,000 less than stoplight intersections in Sarasota, because the traffic-light arms have to be built to withstand hurricane winds.
“Ten years from now, nobody will remember that, though,” Bumgarner said. “(Roundabouts) are awesome.”
Because Carmel is still converting intersections to roundabouts, there are a number of areas that are predominantly stoplight intersections. My goal was to drive morning-and-evening rush hour on both roundabout and non-roundabout routes to see if there was any advantage.
Armed with a map that showed the location of every roundabout in Carmel, I set out at 10 a.m. Wednesday, May 20 and didn’t stop driving until 7:30 p.m. that evening.
There’s really no difference between entering a roundabout and yielding at any other intersection. A driver slows down to see if there’s any oncoming traffic. If there is not, then he is free to keep driving. If there are cars headed toward him, then he waits until they pass.
While approaching my first Carmel roundabout, I noticed a confusing road sign with two side-by-side squiggly lines, which represented the two driving lanes curving around the roundabout. I could understand how a driver who’s never seen that kind of sign before or has never been in a roundabout before could be preoccupied with figuring out what it meant.
I knew it had something to do with the roundabout, so I just stayed in my lane and made it swiftly through without so much as tapping on the brakes.
After about an hour in Carmel, I thought I’d give something a try. I wanted to see how long I could drive without having to stop at a light. With my Carmel map, I headed toward all the roundabouts.
A half-hour later, I still hadn’t stopped at a traffic light. It was in that time that I realized how much more relaxed I was behind the wheel. It probably would have been possible to drive all day without hitting a light.
Now, I will readily admit, I’m an impatient driver who gets antsy at traffic lights. The stretch of U.S. 41 from Proctor Road to Bahia Vista Street can get my blood boiling, especially during season.
But after a few hours in Carmel, I found roundabouts had an important psychological effect on me. I may not have actually been getting anywhere faster than I would have on streets with traffic lights, but, because I was constantly moving, I felt like I was.
Although my whole mission in Carmel was just to drive, with no real destination, I could feel my blood pressure rising when I was on the streets with stoplights, and I wasn’t even rushing to get to the office or pick up my son from the sitter.
There are two, main north-south thoroughfares through Carmel. U.S. 31 has no roundabouts, and Keystone Avenue has seven in various stages of construction. The main east-west road, 116th Street, bisects the city, with five roundabouts to the east and none to the west.
With a stopwatch in hand, I set out to see if roundabouts actually save time (see boxes).
ROUNDABOUTS VS. STOPLIGHTS AT RUSH HOUR
• 106th Street and Pennsylvania Street
Wednesday, 5:35p.m. five-car backup
• 106th Street and College Avenue
Wednesday, 5:37p.m. 29-car backup
• Westfield Boulevard and 96th Street
Wednesday, 5:14p.m. no backup
• 106h Street and College Avenue
Wednesday, 5:15p.m 42-car backup
To view maps of various intersections with roundabouts in Carmel, Ind., go to http://www.yourobserver.com/content/Advantage-roundabouts-19.html and click the download link