Five Corners

The roundabout at Ellington's "Five Corners" intersection. (Staff photo / May 22, 2013)

Kevin Lyden says Salem's experience with the new roundabout at the intersection of Routes 85 and 82 wasn't much different than Ellington's, except that the Salem junction was a lot more dangerous.

Lyden is the town's first selectman, and he says there "was some resistance" in Salem when the roundabout was proposed but that residents were aware that something had to be done about safety. For one thing, the intersection was getting 15,000 vehicles a day coming off the unfinished Route 11 highway on their way to and from New London.

In the five years before the federally funded $3.5 million Salem project got under way, there'd been 119 accidents at that location, state records show, resulting in 43 injuries. "There was a death there [during that period] and several critical accidents," according to Lyden.

"Change is always difficult for people," he adds, "and people here were a little leery."

Yet Lyden says Salem "locals got used to it fairly quickly... I'd say it's been well received by local people."

There have been a few scary incidents, according to a New London Day report of a Salem meeting back in April when officials reported seeing occasional motorists "completely adrift" in the roundabout.

Lyden thinks those people were outsiders completely unfamiliar with roundabouts. "We have people coming in from Hartford," he laughs, "and I want to ask them, 'Do you know what "yield" means?'"

One of the major advantages to roundabouts is that the only direction a driver entering the circle has to pay attention to is his or her left, which is where all the circling traffic is coming from.

Just about the only downside to roundabouts, according to various reports, is that they seem to result in slightly higher accident rates for bicyclists. Britnell says there is conflicting research on the issue, but that the problems appear to be focused on roundabouts that have multiple lanes. He insists that's a problem that can be overcome by educating both drivers and bikers.

Pedestrians, on the other hand, seem to do far better with roundabouts. "There's never been a pedestrian fatality at a U.S. roundabout," Britnell says, "since 1980 when the first modern roundabouts were installed in this country."

In 2004, the state put in its first new-style roundabout in West Haven (at the intersection of Route 162 and State Road 705, more commonly known as Ocean Avenue and Jones Hill Road). Since then, the DOT has revamped the old high-speed rotary at Routes 80 and 81 in Killingworth, and installed the roundabouts in Ellington and Salem.

More are on the way, according to Britnell, including one in design right now for the intersection of Routes 110 and 111 in Monroe. That's another of the older rotaries that state officials plan to convert to a more sensible, safer roundabout.

Britnell doubts that Connecticut will ever see as many roundabouts as there are in England and other European countries.

He says that's partly due to the fact that roundabouts take up slightly more space than traditional intersections. Many intersections in highly urbanized Connecticut have buildings crammed up close to the roadways, making it tough to squeeze in a roundabout.

"I do think we'll see a lot more [roundabouts]," says Britnell. "Whenever we're going to put in a traffic signal at an intersection for the first time, I hope we'll also be considering roundabouts."

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