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Traffic roundabouts are driving Port Coquitlam residents crazy. Experts say they're safer

Have you been caught in a roundabout? The large circles are being installed instead of traffic signals all over Metro Vancouver, but they take some getting used to.

You don't have to stay too long at a traffic roundabout in Metro Vancouver to see confusion and even dangerous driving.

In Langley, someone recently posted to TikTok a video of drivers going the wrong way in a roundabout under construction in that city.


See video below.


And in Port Coquitlam, someone snapped a photo of a long line of traffic snaking past a roundabout under construction on Prairie Avenue, calling the initiative "a joke."

Others refuse to slow down, including one all terrain vehicle, which didn't slow down in the new Prairie Avenue roundabout, prompting a construction worker to describe the driver as "a jerk."

One letter writer wrote that watching cars negotiate the Prairie Avenue roundabout was "entertaining."

But could all this mayhem and traffic chaos be temporary as people get used to roundabouts?

Is it possible they are safer than a traditional traffic signal, where drivers can get into all sorts of trouble, such as a head on collision or a T-bone accident at an intersection?

With a roundabout, the worst accident would be a side swipe from someone failing to yield.

"It’s designed to slow vehicles down, which reduces the severity of collisions," said Jan Voss, a traffic analyst whose company Creative Traffic Solutions is based in Port Coquitlam.

Voss said there's all sorts of data that shows that roundabouts are safer than signal controlled intersections, which is why ICBC and the Ministry of Transportaiton and Infrastructure prefer them.

"Before any new traffic signal is installed, the authority, such as a city, must first review the viability of a roundabout — either a single or two lane — before they will put a traffic signal on a provincial road," explained Voss.

@wiggyonair Those damn roundabouts… 🤦🏻‍♂️ #fyp #foryoupage #comedy #funny #traffic #canada #britishcolumbia ♬ Monkeys Spinning Monkeys - Kevin MacLeod & Kevin The Monkey

THE BENEFITS OF ROUNDABOUTS

In addition to the Langley roundabout mocked on TikTok, there are a number of them on major roads and highways, including one that recently opened in Delta on the River Road interchange with Highway 17.

Voss said drivers should start to get used to roundabouts because they are going to become more common.

When he arrived in B.C. in 1991, they were mostly used in Vancouver's dense neighbourhood of the West End. Now they are becoming more common elsewhere as part of a "tool box" of traffic calming devices, Voss said.

"Every municipality is exploring them," he said.

In some cases, however, they can't be put in because there's not enough room.

Port Coquitlam says the roundabouts were studied as part of a large public consultation effort to look at traffic calming measures.

In an email, city engineer Joshua Frederick said roundabouts are known to:

  • reduce traffic speed and therefore accident severity
  • allow for one way continuous flow of traffic
  • reduce conflict points and discourage drivers from speeding,
  • and provide natural traffic calming.

"These were some of the main advantages which aided the decision to design and construct a roundabout at this location, and notably consistent with residents’ feedback during the 2019 public feedback survey that speeding traffic is a major issue on Prairie Avenue," he stated.

HOW CAN I LEARN TO USE A ROUNDABOUT?

Many Metro Vancouver residents have seen traffic circles.

But roundabouts are different than traffic circles, which are smaller and placed on local roads to slow traffic. 

Roundabouts are larger than traffic circles, explained Voss, and they have a "mountable apron," usually a different colour of concrete, to enable trucks and buses to get around the circle without knocking signs, curbs and landscaping.

The best way to get used to them is to drive through them, he said, and while he agreed it may take a "generation" for drivers to change habits to slow down, roundabouts may be a life saver for many.

"ICBC is a huge proponent of them and is helping to fund some of them because their payout costs go down by installing roundabouts instead of traffic signals," Voss said.

ICBC offers an online video to explain how to use them properly.

WHERE ARE POCO'S NEW ROUNDABOUTS?

As well, they are better for taxpayers than a traffic signal, he said, because they don't require an expensive computer signal to control them and constant maintenance.

"About all you need is a street sweeper and someone to maintain the landscaping."

Port Coquitlam is in the midst of installing two roundabouts, with one already in place on a busy street with heavy pedestrian traffic near Gates Park and Riverside Secondary school.

Another is under construction on Kingsway Avenue next to the new Port Coquitlam Community Centre, and another is being built on Prairie Avenue at Newberry Street.

This one, which is raising a lot of ire, still needs a final concrete pour (and two weeks of curing), plantings, splitter islands to slow traffic entering the roundabout, and painted crosswalks.

In the meantime, cones are in place to "delineate the work zone," according to the city's Frederick, who blamed current "traffic problems" on construction and not the roundabout itself, which will be finished soon.

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