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REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK: Going round and round about roundabouts

Roundabouts with Brainerd’s proposed College Drive reconstruction project brought up debate at Tuesday’s Crow Wing County Board meeting. 

“Being a good American that I am and thinking we fought a war with Europe over some things, this is one of those things that seems to me to be European,” Thiede said. “... What are we accomplishing and if it doesn’t work what is the corrective action?”

Tim Bray, county highway engineer, said he wasn’t sure what the corrective action is. 

“I’m confident they will work,” Bray said. 

Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom asked what the benefit was to the roundabout. Bray replied traffic light intersections come with assumptions that crossing traffic will stop and when that doesn’t happen a catastrophic crash is possible. Roundabouts, Bray said, virtually remove the catastrophic crash with a 90 percent reduction in crashes overall and essential elimination of fatal crashes. 

“Quite frankly, I have great aversion to roundabouts myself,” Thiede said, agreeing with the desire for safety on urban streets. “I just want to be on record because I’m not sure this is going to work like you engineers designed it because I’ve traveled these things.”

Thiede said he drives the College Drive corridor a few times a week and he is skeptical of the pattern. Nystrom said she is on the College Drive intersection four times a day. 

“I can help you,” Nystrom told Thiede. “I can get you through a couple of roundabouts.”

Nystrom noted new roundabouts in St. Cloud and said they were effective and efficient. She added new things are frightening and the decision about their use here isn’t really the county’s “bee’s wax.”

Bray said the county’s first roundabout will be in Nisswa in 2012. Bray noted there is no shortage of skepticism for roundabouts. 

“It’s kind of fear of the unknown,” Bray said. “If you haven’t driven them a lot you may be uncomfortable with them.”

Thiede said he’s driven on many roundabouts and it’s definitely not fear of the unknown. Bray said the use of roundabouts is a tool. Thiede said he’d rather it not be a tool that is used too often.