Drivers now need to think twice before turning into a roundabout

Elected officials from Florida to Iowa to Washington, D.C., are touting the huge potential for stoplights and roundabouts to reduce emissions as they reform “fast-moving travel” around airports, race tracks and large parking lots.

Supporters say the design turns the movement of cars back onto the road and around more transportation modes, such as mass transit and cycling, rather than interrupting it with congestion-busting. At the same time, roads that are “smarter” are easier to drive on — including pothole-plagued ones — which can make traffic flow less slowly and cause drivers to be more careful.

“The traditional way of managing traffic, to keep traffic moving slowly, without any enforcement, is very inefficient,” said Dr. Luis Contreras-Aguilar, director of the University of Houston’s Institute for Transportation Studies. “We want to move vehicles more in a synchronized way, leading to more traffic flow efficiency.”

All-electronic traffic signals have been in operation for decades, but the technology has continued to evolve. The new technology takes a number of factors into account, including the highway design and even the type of parking lot or where the parking lot is located, to determine whether the roadway can be accommodated with fewer traffic signals.

In cities like Miami and Dallas, city governments have implemented automated traffic signals and replaced thousands of traffic signals with automated ones in order to ease traffic. The number of automated traffic signals in Dallas is expected to grow 50 percent over the next five years, from 2,000 to 2,800, according to the city’s transportation department.

Officials in more than two dozen major cities, including Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, Houston, San Francisco and Atlanta, have adopted electronic vehicle-to-vehicle communication systems to increase safety and reduce accidents while providing real-time information to drivers in real time.

“It all fits into the agenda of being greener, being more efficient and using the new technology,” said Alicia Martinez, a spokeswoman for Dallas city government.

In Florida, Tampa began looking into using roundabouts in 2008, at the request of then-Governor Charlie Crist. Eighteen intersections were constructed that fall.

“There’s always been a discussion that it’s a piece of information to the driver. In the past, there’s been a debate about what data you have to gather in order to do this,” said Beth Tandy Weber, Tampa’s director of planning and transportation. “That information is gathered from devices that are installed on the back of the cars.”

Roundabouts require no traffic officers to direct traffic, save for a few close call-like incidents. But the speed limit is still the same, so drivers are encouraged to not be overly cautious in an attempt to avoid a yellow light. In addition, drivers are aware that someone else is driving at a different speed, slowing for the slowest cars.

“It’s an information highway. There’s very little disturbance to the flow of traffic,” Ms. Weber said.

There are concerns, though, that high-speed and traffic can send the collisions soaring.

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