On Friday, July 29, a milestone was reached in Kihei with the groundbreaking for a modern roundabout at the intersection of Pi'ikea and Liloa Streets, near Pi'ilani Shopping Center.
As an advocate for a roundabout at this location, I am convinced it was important that a thorough conversation was conducted by everyone interested in the outcome of this innovative effort to improve traffic flow and safety in this area, which will experience steady growth over the course of the next few years.
In the past, increased traffic at an intersection would first be addressed with stop signs. As the increase continued, the next step was a four-way stoplight, backing up traffic, increasing vehicle accidents and pedestrian injuries, wasting gas as cars idled waiting for the light to change and making the flow of traffic much less efficient.
A modern roundabout, such as the one being constructed in Kihei, eliminates all of these obstacles and has become the first option requested of a local government by federal traffic engineers when preparing to distribute highway funds for designing an intersection.
At a recent conference I attended, held by the National Association of Counties, I was told by a traffic engineer that, "Short of completely blocking all traffic from an intersection, the safest thing, by far, to control traffic safely is a roundabout."
A 2000 study of roundabouts in the U.S. examined 23 intersections in detail and found that when a roundabout was implemented, there was a 40 percent reduction in total crash frequency, an 80 percent reduction in injury crash frequency, and a 90 percent reduction in fatal and incapacitating injury crash frequency.
A modern roundabout is an un-signalized, one-way circular intersection engineered to maximize safety and minimize traffic delay. Modern roundabouts can range in diameter from 45 to 200 feet, with operating speeds typically ranging from 15 to 25 miles per hour.
Modern roundabouts, which now exist in 44 states, are distinguished by three basic principles:
Yield at entry: Traffic entering the circle yields to traffic already in the circle.
Traffic deflection: Pavement markings and raised islands direct traffic into a one-way counterclockwise flow.
Geometric curvature: The radius of the circular road and the angles of entry can be designed to slow the speed of vehicles.
Pedestrian safety is enhanced because modern roundabouts actually reduce pedestrian conflict points from 24 at a standard intersection to just eight. Islands built in the modern roundabout provide a safe area for pedestrians and with fewer lanes to cross and cars coming in only one direction, it's easier for pedestrians to determine gaps in traffic.
Roundabouts were a topic of discussion for many years before funding was approved by the Maui County Council. I look forward to the day when the patience and participation by the community will be rewarded and other areas will be asking, "When can we get a roundabout?"
Please contact me at my office at 270-7108 if I can provide you with additional information about roundabouts in general-including findings by the Insurance Institute of America-or on the Kihei roundabout in particular.