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Sarasota still has a ways to go to be a 'roundabout city'

Sarasota is among the state's leaders in converting intersections into roundabouts. On a national level, it's not even close.

The roundabout at 14th Street and U.S. 41 is among the network of roundabouts along Tamiami Trail planned by the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization through Sarasota.
The roundabout at 14th Street and U.S. 41 is among the network of roundabouts along Tamiami Trail planned by the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization through Sarasota.
Photo by Andrew Warfield
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While Sarasota is among the leading cities in Florida in incorporating roundabouts into its traffic management strategy, it has a long way to go to mirror Carmel, Indiana, when it comes to sending drivers around in circles. 

With the completion of the U.S. 41-Gulfstream Avenue roundabout, Sarasota will have a total of 13 combined on city streets and the state highway. Carmel, meanwhile, has 142 roundabouts, the most of any city in the country. By 2025, the city of more than 100,000 people will have only one signalized intersection. 

Dubbed the “roundabout capital of the U.S.,” compared to other Indiana cities with populations of at least 33,000, in 2020 Carmel had the fewest personal injury accidents in the state at 0.15% vs. the population. By contrast, Valparaiso and Evansville lead Indiana with 0.84% personal injury accidents vs. their population. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Carmel has reduced by about 80% the number of injury accidents, and overall accidents by about 40%.

Injury accidents in roundabouts are lower than traditional signalized intersections because they all but eliminate high-speed crashes by significantly reducing conflict points with pedestrians and other vehicles. Every driver in the roundabout is traveling in the same direction, limiting crashes to the slower speed rear-end or sideswipe varieties. And although they keep vehicles flowing through the circle with fewer stops and idling, drivers must slow down to navigate the tight-circle movement. 

“At its core the foundation of a roundabout is that it slows traffic down,” said Nina Venter, multimodal planner with the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization. “When you see a roundabout, it's sort of a cue that you need to slow your speed down to 15 to 20 miles an hour. When you get to modern roundabout, the first thing you encounter is a set of signs you need to follow to make sure you're in the right lane. 

“Altogether, the geometry of the roundabout and the fact that it's a circle, the fact that it slows traffic down and the fact that you have all of these cues that you need to be sensitized to improves the overall safety of the intersection.”

According to the Institute for Highway Safety:

  • Roundabouts are a safer alternative to traffic signals and stop signs. The tight circle of a roundabout forces drivers to slow down, and the most severe types of intersection crashes — right-angle, left-turn and head-on collisions — are unlikely.
  • Roundabouts improve traffic flow and are better for the environment. Research shows that traffic flow improves after traditional intersections are converted to roundabouts. Less idling reduces vehicle emissions and fuel consumption.
  • Roundabouts generally are safer for pedestrians who walk on sidewalks around the perimeter and cross only one direction of traffic at a time. Crossing distances are relatively short, and traffic speeds are slower than at traditional intersections.\

Commonplace in Europe and Australia, the first modern roundabouts in the U.S. were built in Nevada in 1990. They have been gaining in popularity here ever since, with some states such as New York and Virginia adopting “roundabout first” policies that require they be considered as a preferred alternative for new and upgraded intersections.

The IIHS research further found:

  • Studies of intersections in the United States converted from traffic signals or stop signs to roundabouts reduced injury crashes of 72%-80% and reductions in all crashes of 35%-47%.
  • A study of 19 higher-speed rural intersections with speed limits of 40 miles per hour or higher that originally had stop signs on the minor approaches and were converted to roundabouts found a 62% percent reduction in all crashes and an 85% percent reduction in injury crashes.
  • Studies of intersections in Europe and Australia that were converted to roundabouts have reported 25%-87% percent reductions in injury crashes and 36%-61% percent reductions in all crashes.
  • It’s estimated that converting 10% of the signalized intersections in the U.S. to roundabouts would have prevented approximately 51,000 crashes in 2018, including 231 fatal crashes and about 34,000 injury crashes.

“Roundabouts at former signalized intersections change crash types from being head-on or T-bone collisions that are often are fatal in nature,” said Sarasota Chief Transportation Planner Alvimarie Corales. “We’re changing those to be angled and sideswiped, which reduces the crash severity and reduces he fatalities and serious injuries. I would say the average reduction in fatalities and serious injuries is 80%. By changing those crash heights we are improving safety at these intersections.”



Andrew Warfield

Andrew Warfield is the Sarasota Observer city reporter. He is a four-decade veteran of print media. A Florida native, he has spent most of his career in the Carolinas as a writer and editor, nearly a decade as co-founder and editor of a community newspaper in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.

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