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KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University has one of a relatively few traffic roundabouts in the country, and while driving through a roundabout is reasonably self-explanatory--just follow the signs--it can be a little daunting the first time.
Roundabouts have several advantages over typical intersections, which is what led campus planners to select a roundabout for the heavily congested traffic in the area of the newly completed west entrance to WMU's main campus. The absence of left-hand turns greatly reduces traffic delays and the frequency and severity of accidents, according to Evie Asken, director of campus planning.
WMU's roundabout joins West Michigan Avenue from the west, Knollwood Avenue from the south and Rankin Avenue from the north. The most-important things to remember about driving in a roundabout are:
Modern roundabouts are similar in some respects to their predecessors, traffic circles and rotaries, which have been common for decades in New England and Atlantic coast states. All have a central island, typically circular, and all permit only one-way traffic--all vehicles move counterclockwise. Left turns into the circle or roundabout are prohibited.
Most important among the differences between the predecessors and the modern roundabout is that in a roundabout, traffic in the circular path always has the right-of-way over traffic entering the circular path. This became the national standard in England in 1963. The first modern roundabouts in the United States opened in 1996 in Utah.
Roundabouts also differ from their predecessors in that traffic entering the circular path is forced by raised guides to turn right, similar to an entrance ramp on a highway. With older traffic circles, roads joining the circle typically met the circle at right angles. Roundabouts are usually much smaller than traffic circles, which are common at the center of many East Coast towns and might contain a park with a pavilion or large monument and trees. With roundabouts, any landscaping is low-profile, providing greatly improved visibility.