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    454. Should Traffic Lights Be Abolished?

    en-usMarch 11, 2021

    Podcast Summary

    • The Rise of the Dull Men's Club and Roundabout Appreciation SocietyBeing "dull" is not boring, but a symbol of reliability and appreciation for the often-ignored features of our surroundings, such as roundabouts. The society celebrates the unique and aesthetic qualities of roundabouts, as shown in the award-winning Flanders Roundabout in Ashford, Kent.

      Kevin Beresford, a member of the Dull Men’s Club and the U.K. Roundabout Appreciation Society, explains that being dull is the new black and that dull men are reliable. His appreciation for roundabouts inspired him to create a calendar that sold worldwide and eventually led to the formation of the Roundabout Appreciation Society. Members of the society appreciate the aesthetic quality of roundabouts and discuss their unique features, such as fountains, statues, and even a working windmill that produces flour. The Flanders Roundabout in Ashford, Kent was named the best roundabout of 2020 in England.

    • The Benefits and Challenges of RoundaboutsRoundabouts can greatly enhance safety and sustainability while also providing physical and cultural benefits. Although costly, their long-term advantages make them a worthwhile investment.

      Roundabouts can increase safety on roads and reduce the number of fatal accidents. Roundabouts can also provide environmental and economic benefits, such as reducing emissions and lowering property damage costs. The construction of roundabouts is expensive, but they have significant long-term benefits. They also offer aesthetic possibilities and an opportunity to celebrate diversity, as seen with the gay roundabout in Canberra. Carmel, Indiana, is an example of a city that has successfully implemented roundabouts to increase safety and walkability in their downtown area. Despite the benefits, roundabouts are not commonly used in the United States.

    • Carmel, Indiana's Success with Roundabouts and Improved Safety at IntersectionsCarmel, Indiana has reduced injuries and fatalities from vehicle crashes with their implementation of roundabouts. Comparing to standard intersections, roundabouts have proven to be a safer alternative.

      Carmel, Indiana has built more roundabouts than any other city in the United States, with 133 in total and more still under construction. The implementation of roundabouts has significantly reduced injuries and fatalities from vehicle crashes at intersections. In 2019, crashes in the U.S. produced around 36,000 deaths and 2.75 million injuries, with around a quarter of those fatalities happening at intersections. Comparing U.S. crash data from 2017 to 2019, roundabouts result in a death rate of 0.1 percent, or 1 death per 1,000 crashes. Comparatively, the death rate at a standard four-way intersection with traffic lights or stop signs is 0. Therefore, roundabouts have proven to be a safer alternative to traditional intersections.

    • Roundabouts: The Safer Intersection ChoiceRoundabouts are a proven safety countermeasure, with fewer fatalities, slower speeds, and better intersection management. Carmel, Indiana demonstrates the effectiveness of roundabouts with an impressively low traffic death rate.

      Roundabouts are proven to be safer than other types of intersections, with only 4 deaths per 1,000 crashes compared to 9 deaths at a 'Y' intersection, based on data on fatal crashes. The slower speeds at roundabouts, typically around 15 to 20 mph, make them safer for both vehicles and pedestrians. Additionally, roundabouts allow the intersection to manage itself, promoting more conscientious driving and reducing the human error rate. Despite potential confounding factors, the track record speaks for itself, with roundabouts being a proven safety countermeasure. Jim Brainard, the Carmel mayor, reports an impressively low rate of only 2 traffic deaths per 100,000 people in his city.

    • The Benefits of Roundabouts for Intersection SafetyRoundabouts are effective in reducing fatal accidents at intersections by directing traffic flow and decreasing right-angle collisions. They also have environmental benefits and should be considered by cities to improve intersection safety.

      Roundabouts offer a significant increase in intersection safety due to their ability to mitigate the most fatal kinds of accidents. They reduce the number of fatalities in intersections by directing traffic flow in a way that eliminates dangerous right-angle collisions. Additionally, roundabouts produce fewer fatal collisions than non-roundabout intersections. The evidence overwhelmingly supports the safety benefits of roundabouts, particularly in locations where drivers are familiar with them. Additionally, the environment benefits from roundabouts as they reduce emissions due to less idling traffic. While roundabouts are not a magic bullet, cities should consider their implementation to help reduce intersection fatalities.

    • The benefits of roundabouts over traditional traffic signalsRoundabouts offer a safer, more sustainable, and efficient option to traditional signals, reducing fuel consumption, carbon emissions, congestion and improving traffic flow. Cities are making the switch to roundabouts for sustainability and safety.

      Roundabouts offer a safer, more sustainable, and more efficient alternative to traditional traffic signals. Studies have shown that roundabouts significantly reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions, saving cities millions of dollars annually. Despite initial concerns about slower traffic flow, data has proven that roundabouts actually reduce congestion and improve traffic flow. Roundabouts are especially effective during peak traffic hours, making them an ideal choice for sustainability advocates and transportation departments alike. As transportation scholars continue to extol the benefits of roundabouts, cities across the country are making the switch to this safer and more sustainable alternative to traditional intersections.

    • Benefits and Costs of Converting to RoundaboutsRoundabouts can improve safety, fuel efficiency, and traffic flow, but converting existing intersections can be expensive due to real estate and retrofitting costs. Signalized intersections are widespread in the US with one per 1,000 residents on average.

      Roundabouts can save lives, fuel, and reduce pollution and congestion, but converting an existing intersection can be costly in terms of real estate and retrofitting. The cost of a standard intersection with traffic lights can range from $250,000 to over $1 million, with 50% of the cost going towards design, engineering, and development work. Signal heads, which contain the red, yellow, and green lights, can cost around $2,000 to $3,000 each. Traffic lights have been around since the 1920s, and there are roughly 330,000 signalized intersections in the US. Traffic engineers have a rule of thumb of one signalized intersection per 1,000 residents.

    • The Complex and Costly Infrastructure of Traffic SignalsTraffic signals are expensive, complex, and require regular maintenance. LED bulbs save money on electricity bills, but visibility issues in winter can cause accidents. They account for significant traffic delays every year.

      Traffic signals are complex and expensive pieces of infrastructure. They require a range of equipment from poles to control boxes to pedestrian push buttons. The cost of this equipment can range from $25,000 to $30,000 per intersection, and the wiring alone can cost anywhere from $3 to $100 per foot. The wiring can even require underground drilling and routing, which can take months to complete. Traffic signal technicians deal with everything from rats chewing on wires to hurricanes that destroy equipment. While the technology behind traffic signals has evolved, the greatest innovation in recent times has been the switch from incandescent bulbs to LED bulbs, which saves cities money on electricity bills. However, LED bulbs may not melt snow in the winter, which can cause visibility issues and accidents. In total, traffic signals account for around 295 million vehicle hours of traffic delays per year.

    • The Benefits and Cost Savings of Roundabouts over Traffic-Light IntersectionsRoundabouts help move traffic more efficiently, reduce maintenance and electricity costs, and improve accessibility to businesses. Though initially expensive to convert, they're a more cost-effective long-term solution for traffic safety and efficiency.

      Roundabouts are less expensive and more efficient than traffic-light intersections in the long run despite the short-term costs of converting. Converting a four-way stop to a roundabout is always less expensive and saves costs associated with traffic lights such as maintenance and electricity. Roundabouts help move 50 percent more cars per hour and improve accessibility to businesses by reducing traffic congestion. Though businesses may lose visibility from cars stopped at traffic lights, a roundabout's primary purpose is traffic safety and efficiency. The movement to build roundabouts is growing in the United States, as they are incentivized by federal transportation law in areas with bad air quality.

    • The Public's Hesitation to Adopt Roundabouts in the United StatesDespite roundabouts being successful in other countries, fear of change, negative public perception, and political risk aversion have led to hesitation in adopting them in America. This mindset remains a topic for further analysis.

      Despite roundabouts being promoted by some Department of Transportations, many American cities and towns are hesitant to adopt them due to fear of change and negative public perception. Politicians may also avoid taking risks that could result in failure and impact their re-election. In some cases, fierce public opposition has killed off roundabout projects, while others choose to upgrade signalized intersections instead due to a perceived difficulty in driving through roundabouts. The perception that roundabouts are too European may also play a role in their unpopularity. However, the first modern roundabout dates back to 1899 in Germany, and roundabouts have been successful in other countries. The American public's hesitancy to adopt roundabouts remains a topic for further study and analysis.

    • The Benefits and Challenges of Roundabouts in the USRoundabouts offer numerous benefits such as reducing congestion and accidents, but many American drivers are hesitant to use them due to lack of education and training. The rise of autonomous vehicles adds another layer of complexity to the issue.

      While roundabouts have been popular in Europe for a long time, the US has been slow to adopt them due to various reasons such as cost, design, timeline, and environmental concerns. However, studies have shown that once drivers use roundabouts and understand how to navigate them, their apprehensions go away and they see the benefits. The established transportation design guidelines in the US train drivers to rely on the transportation system to instruct them at every move, making it uncomfortable for drivers to think for themselves at roundabouts. This highlights the need for driver education and training when it comes to roundabouts. As autonomous vehicles become more popular and roundabouts remain prevalent in areas like senior-living communities, it raises questions about how well they will mix. Navigating a roundabout requires an intricate dance with other vehicles, which presents a challenge for self-driving cars.

    • Teaching Autonomous Vehicles to Navigate RoundaboutsAutonomous vehicles use metadata to choose the safest option and will eventually learn to handle unexpected circumstances through experience. Even with public perception challenges, they have the potential to save millions of lives and trillions of dollars.

      Teaching autonomous vehicles to navigate roundabouts requires the understanding of objects' metadata like speed, direction, and prediction of their location in the future. Systems like Voyage's algorithm play forward various scenarios and choose the safest option. However, autonomous vehicles still need to overcome public perception and anxiety as people relinquish control to software. Oliver Cameron believes that driverless vehicles will eventually learn to handle unexpected circumstances as they learn from thousands of other situations. Despite the challenges, many people believe that autonomous vehicles will save millions of lives and trillions of dollars in the future.

    • The Power of Perception: How Roundabouts Changed Public Opinion and Could Inspire Creative Transportation Structures.Public perception can change with time and patience. Roundabouts were once unpopular but are now widely accepted. Embracing local art and culture in transportation design can lead to truly unique and creative structures.

      Despite initial opposition, public perception of transportation change can shift relatively fast. Roundabouts, for example, were once widely opposed but are now widely accepted. The key to overcoming this hurdle with autonomous vehicles may be patience and time. Additionally, roundabouts offer a unique opportunity to showcase local art and culture, making them more than just functional transportation structures. Embracing this idea in America could lead to some truly unique and creative roundabouts in the future.

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