A full decade around the roundabout: Traffic circles prove safer for Truckee | TahoeDailyTribune.com

A full decade around the roundabout: Traffic circles prove safer for Truckee

Greyson Howard

Emma Garrard/Sierra Sun

It’s been 10 years since Truckee’s first roundabout, and new ones are still popping up.

The town’s initial roundabout was built on the western entrance to downtown Truckee in 1998, and the circular intersections have since appeared on Brockway Road, Highway 89 – both north and south – and elsewhere as a part of new development and growing traffic. And as the town continues to grow, even more roundabouts are planned to aid intersections and replace stop lights, Truckee officials said.

“I know when we built the first one, there was a lot of skepticism,” said Dan Wilkins, Truckee’s director of public works. “After about a year, we heard a lot of comments from skeptics who overcame their skepticism.”

From a technical standpoint, both Wilkins and Truckee police Sgt. Jason Litchie said they are working.

“They’re considerably safer, and that’s especially true on Highway 89 south,” Litchie said. “They’ve greatly improved traffic flow, and we used to get a couple very serious collisions their every few months, and now we have zero.”

Litchie said the main benefit is that roundabouts make people slow down.

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Wilkins said the biggest issue is the learning curve – getting used to a type of intersection still relatively new to the country.

“The whole element of lack of familiarity goes away, but because we get so many first-time visitors on our roadways we have a constant lack of familiarity,” Wilkins said.

Local resident John Gotgart, who said he likes the roundabouts, had a similar observation.

“I don’t think they’re bad, it’s just a lot of people don’t know how to operate the things – that’s the problem,” he said. “But I like that they keep things moving.”

But John Fraser, a downtown business owner, said he hasn’t come around to them yet.

“I think they’re a pain in the neck. They certainly confuse people,” Fraser said.

Cyclists have also had to figure out the best way through a roundabout, said Dan Warren, a local bicycle commuter.

“It was initially daunting figuring out where we were supposed to be,” Warren said. “We’ve found we have to establish the lane as our own going through – once you do that, it works well.”

Jim Sayer, a former Truckee resident and cycling advocate, said there are fewer points of conflict in a roundabout than an intersection with signals.

“For drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians, once they get used to it, it’s a lot easier to get through,” said Sayer, executive director of Adventure Cycling Association. “And you don’t have to wait for a signal.”

With roundabouts reducing both the number of accidents and their severity, Wilkins said Truckee will continue to add roundabouts at intersections in need.

As new development brings more traffic, roundabouts could appear on Donner Pass Road between downtown and Interstate 80, at Donner Pass Road and Coldstream, and on the other side of the overpass, at Brockway and Highway 267, accessing the Hilltop development, at Pioneer Trail, and Highway 89 south and Donner Pass Road, Wilkins said.

“They’re a work in progress and I think with every new roundabout we learn a little more whether it be on landscaping or lane widths,” Wilkins said.