Round About Farmington

RoundAboutFarmington.jpgOver the past few years, a number of prominent Northfielders have raised the possibility of creating a roundabout in town. I seem to recall Jim Pokorney and Victor Summa suggesting that we could consider one for Third Street and Dahomey Avenue and Vern Ripley and Bruce Anderson advocating for one at Prairie Street and Woodley Street.

Roundabouts are a contemporary variation of the traffic circle or rotary, a design form going back hundreds of years. Cited as statistically safer for vehicular traffic (although not for cyclists), the devices maintain slower speeds of travel without requiring a full stop.

They are common in Europe and New England, however, now there is one close to home. A roundabout was recently completed on Highway 3, just north of Farmington.

So, if you have any interest in the concept, head north and check it out.


  1. Ross, Thanks for blogging about roundabouts. You’re right, I’m a strong advocate of roundabouts because they offer markedly superior safety, traffic flow, and fuel-saving characteristics compared to other intersection traffic controls. I’ve blogged about them several times (Roundabouts redux; Woodley Street: A Modest Proposal). New Prague, 25 miles to our west on Highway 19, now has two roundabouts on Highway 19 as well.

    One point in your post I will take issue with: you state that roundabouts are “Cited as statistically safer for vehicular traffic (although not for cyclists).” On the contrary, studies I have seen indicate that roundabouts are safer for all modes of transportation (motor vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians). For example, a comprehensive federal report on roundabouts (Roundabouts: An Informational Guide) cites national and international studies documenting markedly lower accident rates (especially injury accidents) at roundabouts for all modes than at other controlled intersections, and significant drops in accident rates at intersections converted to roundabouts from some other form of traffic control (e.g. four-way stop or traffic signals). “A Dutch study of 181 intersections converted to roundabouts found reductions in all pedestrian crashes of 73 percent and in pedestrian injury crashes of 89 percent. In this study, all modes shared in the safety benefits to greater (passenger cars) or lesser extents (bicycles).” In other words, the bicycle safety benefits were less than the benefits for motorists and pedestrians, but ALL modes saw safety benefits.

    I would love to see roundabouts come to Northfield. Whether you’re driving or biking, it makes no sense to come to a complete stop when you could instead roll through a roundabout at 15 to 20 mph more safely, more quickly, and save fuel. I advocated strongly for roundabouts at Jefferson, Spring Creek Road, and Prairie on the section of Woodley now being reworked, but project engineers (city, county and consultants), while paying lip service to the possibility, didn’t see fit to investigate them seriously. I still think roundabouts on Woodley at Maple and Division would make a lot of sense. Small roundabouts, with beautiful gardens/fountains/statuary in the middle, could both provide the safety, traffic flow and energy-saving benefits  for which they are known, and provide an aesthetically appealing gateway to the south end of downtown (and at the north end, at 2nd and Division, for that matter). How about it, potential new council members/mayor???

    October 19, 2008
  2. victor summa said:

    roundabout? Ross … I’ve hear Dr. Ripley speak about them often at Council meetings and others. I don’t recall personally having expressed a point of view but as you might expect, I have one.

    Probably the defining one!

    While I can see the value of that configuration for an intersection (on a main highway intersecting w/another major road) possibly 246 (Division St. S and Jeff Parkway, would be an example) But, I suspect the existing right of way situation would not easily accommodate the extra property needed to make the circle.

    Additionally, while I can see these as an advantage at major vehicular intersections … at high pedestrian situation such as 246/Division by the School District complex, I don’t see it (the R’bout) being safe for the kids and effective or affordable for Northfield.

    I also would vote NO on these for the intersections along Woodley (as suggested by Ripley) as the tighter more dense residential situation there, also doesn’t fit for me. The residential property lines there, contiguous to the right of way, I sincerely doubt would accommodate the expanded ROW needs for the circle.

    I do think if we ever see development in your favorite topic area (Northwest Territories) that a Roundabout could be an effective fit of the new intersection of High 19 and the rerouted connection bifurcating the NW Territory heading south west on a diagonal from Cedar at 310 street to the current 19/ Decker intersection … and continuing south toward Dundas and the river crossing at Cnty Road 1.

    In that case, the rural lands in the 19/Decker vicinity would be available to accommodate expanded needs.

    More interesting to N’fielders than the Farmington situation might be the series of these traffic circles that make intersections coming west out of New Prague along 19, in two block intervals … this all along recent industrial and commercial development.

    Obviously the traffic gurus there (MN Dot and the locals) see a coming need with all the development, to accommodate increased traffic expected at these intersections.

    Incidentally, I’ve never heard J Pokorney comment on this possibility.


    October 19, 2008
  3. victor summa said:

    And …. you wrote: that we (Summa and Pokorney) (w)could consider one for Third Street and Dahomey.

    Dahomey, is the name for Hwy 3 in Waterford Twpshp. I don’t believe it intersects with Third Street.

    If it did … I would not advocate for a Roundabout there, today. I might, had such an idea had legs with MN dot when the Hwy 3 center section was being redesigned. Today? No.

    Interestingly enough, that discussion started in 1996 and was completed (the discussion ) maybe, 4 years later. I was not on the Citizen committee that chewed on that … but did attend a number of those meetings, and do not recall any suggestion then that such a change might be in anyone’s mind. In retrospect and considering the angst over adding a (needed) stop light at that intersection, it would have been a good idea to consider and I can see with the lay of the land on those four corners, it probably could have be squeezed in. Where were these big thinkers then?


    October 19, 2008
  4. victor summa said:

    Now I see Bruce Anderson has commented on this issue … even before my MODERATED views have passed the guru test.

    Responding to Bruce, as a candidate, I’d have to have it proven that these are safe for pedestrians. Seems to me the few roundabouts I’ve traversed were a continual flow of vehicles passing in and around and through the circle … or merging or exiting … traffic going round and round about.

    As a pedestrian with a baby in a stroller trying to find an opening in that really troubles me.


    October 19, 2008
  5. Jane McWilliams said:

    Ross, I’m not a potential mayor or council person, but I am a fan of roundabouts. Back during the Highway 3 Task Force discussions, I suggested a roundabout for the 2nd street intersection and I was treated as if I had come from another planet! I’m glad the times have changed, and that design is being considered here in Minnesota. In fact, as you say, Ross, you find them in towns in the east – Concord, New Hampsire and Augusta, Maine both have them and they serve roadways not dissimilar to the Highway 3 intersection. There are roundabouts in my daughter’s residential neighborhood in Seattle, where I have often been both a pedestrian and a driver and navigated them safely. I suspect the pedestrian crossings would need to be designed differently in the case of an intersection like 2nd street and a residential one, but that doesn’t necessarily negate the benefit of the design for slowing traffic.

    October 19, 2008
  6. Jane Moline said:

    I have experienced round-abouts in Coral Gabels, Florida that are much smaller than the Hwy 19 at New Prague–they are meant to accomodate regular cars and not semis–they take up very little room–I really don’t think it is much more than rounding off the corners at a regular intersection (like Woodley & Division) So I think they would work extremely well for residential streets that don’t have semi truck traffic. I agree with Bruce on their safety–they slow everybody down but don’t really stop anybody (except those that don’t know how to use them.) I would not put hard fountains or anything else in the middle–when you slide into the middle on a snowy icy winter day, best to just keep it free so that you can safely stop instead of wacking into a statue.

    The ones I have experienced in New England (on the Cape) are sometimes bigger but not always–depends on the intersection.

    I think you really have to experience them to appreciate their ease of use. I did hate the multi-lane ones in Boston because those drivers are all crazy, and I have heard the same about Rome….

    October 19, 2008
  7. David Koenig said:


    Around 2000, I had suggested a roundabout for the intersection of Hwy 3 and 2nd street when the plans for Hwy 3 were being discussed at the Council.

    I was not yet ready to advocate for one, given some concerns about how semis would manage them, but hoped for some further examination of the possibility.

    As I recall, there was no support from other council members for further study and MNDOT did not see them as being consistent with their way of doing things.

    October 19, 2008
  8. Ross Currier said:

    Bruce –

    I’ve heard differing studies on the cyclist safety issue; perhaps Bill Ostrem will weigh in.

    Victor –

    Admittedly it was back in something like 2002 or 2003, but I have this memory of a meeting at which both you and Jim Pokorney considered a roundabout at 3 and 3rd, with a statue of John North in the middle, pointing the way to downtown.

    I have seen some maps with Dahomey carried into the “downtown section” Highway 3. If, as some have advised, we are to consider it to be a city street instead of a state highway, we should call it as such.

    David K. –

    While I was trying to get a picture of the roundabout on Highway 3 (is it South Robert Trail up there?) just north of Farmington, I saw a semi-trailer pass through. If it is worth considering, perhaps we could learn something from our neighbors to the north.

    Thanks much,


    October 20, 2008
  9. victor summa said:

    I don’t recall speaking about these in the past. My Bad?

    My impressions are as stated above. What’s most interesting in other comments here are Jane’s and Janes !! Both have seen these work in residential neighborhoods. I wonder if they were retro fits or new built?

    While I still think it would be difficult and cost prohibitive to rearrange existing situations, I’d support looking at these for new neighorhoods as they develop. Has the Plan Commission ever asked developers to consider including them in their site plans? I don’t recall that either. Staff should lead in these kind of consdierations. Seems there are frequent times in the past where local movers and shakers have spoken out … and even more, recently including Ross’ thread here! I’m already more swayed than two days ago.

    The Plan commish needs a big sign in the back of the Chambers that reads: “Roundabouts here now!” And when Bruce or Vern go the Open Mic to make these suggestions, others need to join in and make it a citizen dialogue. How about at every relevant opportunity, a LG recap of citizen voice should be introduced by the LG Ombudsman Corp into the Council’s or the appropriate Board or Commission discussion.

    I’ll still push for MN Dot, the counties and N Fld to work together to build one at 19 and Garrett/Decker In fact, I’ve suggested that at the Transportation Plan meetings. Did the PC discuss this at their recent Trans Plan review?

    One thing is clear, there’s deaf ears on this subject. Lesson here is to keep the dialogue going.


    October 20, 2008
  10. I have seen some maps with Dahomey carried into the “downtown section” Highway 3. If, as some have advised, we are to consider it to be a city street instead of a state highway, we should call it as such.

    Ross, ordinarily I also prefer calling streets by their city names instead of state-assigned numbers (e.g., Division Street South instead of 246 and 5th Street instead of 19), but nobody ever calls Hwy 3 “Dahomey Avenue.” Even the city’s maps don’t give it any other name than TH 3.

    October 20, 2008
  11. Victor,

    You raise a couple of reasonable concerns. First, you state that

    I also would vote NO on these for the intersections along Woodley (as suggested by Ripley) as the tighter more dense residential situation there, also doesn’t fit for me. The residential property lines there, contiguous to the right of way, I sincerely doubt would accommodate the expanded ROW needs for the circle.

    I took a first look at whether or not the DOE-recommended design (urban single-lane, accommodated buses and trucks with a wheel base of up to 50 feet) might fit along Woodley at Prairie, Maple and Division. The minimum inscribed circle diameter (page 146, Exhibit 6-19, from the afore-mentioned Roundabouts: an informational guide) is 100 feet. It appears that this would work at each of these intersections (although it admittedly would be a tight fit, particularly at Maple and Division). It would take a minimum amount of work by city staff to determine, objectively, what would or wouldn’t work at each of these intersections.

    You further state that

    I’d have to have it proven that these are safe for pedestrians.

    Very reasonable. I refer you to the following. From the Wisconsin Department of Transportation:

    Roundabouts move traffic safely through an intersection because of:

    • Slower speeds
    • Fewer conflict points
    • Easier decision-making

    Studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety show that roundabouts provide a:

    • 90% reduction in fatal crashes
    • 76% reduction in injury crashes
    • 30-40% reduction in pedestrian crashes
    • 10% reduction in bicycle crashes

     Finally, the abstract of a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (Continued reliance on traffic signals: the cost of missed opportunities to improve traffic flow and safety at urban intersections):

    Traffic congestion and motor vehicle crashes are widespread problems, especially in urban areas.
    Opportunities to improve traffic flow and safety can be missed when traffic signals are installed at
    locations suitable for roundabouts. The present study examined ten signalized intersections in Northern
    Virginia that were newly constructed or recently modified. Standard traffic engineering algorithms were
    used to estimate the effects on traffic delays and motor vehicle crashes if these intersections had been
    constructed as roundabouts. It was estimated that roundabouts would have reduced vehicle delays by
    62-74 percent, depending on intersection, thus eliminating more than 300,000 hours of vehicle delay on
    an annual basis. Annual fuel consumption would have been reduced by more than 200,000 gallons, with
    commensurate reductions in vehicle emissions. Based on previous research on crash risk, it is estimated
    that construction of roundabouts in place of traffic signals could have prevented 62 crashes, 41 with
    injuries, between 1999 and 2003 at five of the intersections for which crash data were available. These
    results show the magnitude of the traffic flow and safety costs when traffic signals are installed at
    locations suitable for roundabouts.

    I think it’s fair to say that the safety (again, for ALL modes of transportation, including pedestrians and cyclists), traffic flow, and fuel-saving benefits of roundabouts are grounded in both theory and real-world data. Cost is a separate issue. That’s where policy-makers have to decide whether it’s worth spending a bit more for these significant benefits, and if so, how much more. 

    October 20, 2008
  12. BruceWMorlan said:

    Dundas has identified 246/CSAH1/81/22/Gates as a good place for a really big roundabout and I certainly hope we can avoid approving development there until MNDoT has come on board with a plan to fix that nasty junction. We also have thought of putting one at Hwy3 and 20 (south of Menards) when we fix that stretch. Also, it is our understanding that MNDoT requires or at least suggests that roundabouts be considered when planning new intersections.

    October 20, 2008
  13. David Koenig said:

    It would have been interesting, visually, at least, to see roundabouts at the intersections of Hwy 3 and both 2nd and 5th streets…a way to put end caps, so to speak, on the downtown area.

    In effect, don’t the yield lanes for turning right at Hwy 3 and 5th approximate the same experience as a roundabout? The only loss is the stopping required to go through.

    I just don’t know how well drivers would handle these, but the stats Ross and others have shown are encouraging and it would have been nice to do something different than just the extra-wide highway that splits the town in half.

    October 20, 2008
  14. Bill Ostrem said:


    I will defer to Bruce A. on the statistical evidence regarding safety of roundabouts. Bruce has really researched the issue! The main safety benefit that I know of for roundabouts is that they largely eliminate the side impacts that can occur if someone runs a red light or a stop sign; that is, they largely eliminate broadside collisions. That is a huge benefit, esp. when we have distracted drivers and cyclists who ignore traffic signals.

    It’s important to distinguish between a “roundabout” or “modern roundabout” and a “traffic circle.” Roundabouts have geometric features that make them safer than traffic circles and also not as good for high-volume roads and higher speed traffic. They’re generally smaller, I think, and slow traffic down more. I don’t think a roundabout would work for Highway 3; the lines would be too long at rush hour. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    See Wikipedia’s entries on roundabouts and traffic circles, which I credit for some of my comments above. Here’s the roundabout entry: The subject gets amazingly technical and complicated! That’s why we have traffic engineers.

    I’ve encountered large traffic circles in New Jersey and small roundabouts in Bend, OR. Bend has over twenty roundabouts, and I rode my bike through them many times when there two summers ago. Bend’s roundabouts give the cyclist two options: blend in with motor traffic or use the pedestrian crossing (sidewalk). Bike lanes apparently are not recommended for roundabouts.

    I much prefer roundabouts to traffic circles. It’s important to remember that people are often talking apples and oranges when they’re discussing these issues – that is, one person is talking roundabouts while the other is imagining a traffic circle.

    October 20, 2008
  15. Bill Ostrem said:

    Let me emphasize I’m not an engineer. In the comment above I was guilty of trying to sound more authoritative than I really am. While I stand by what I said above, I haven’t seen the roundabouts (if that’s what they are) on Hwy 19 near New Prague or the one on Hwy 3 in Farmington, so I don’t really know if they could work on Hwy 3 in Northfield. The roundabouts in Bend were all on lower-volume roads.

    October 20, 2008
  16. Bill Ostrem said:

    Judging from Ross’s picture, the roundabout in Farmington looks like the ones I saw in Bend.

    October 20, 2008
  17. Barry Cipra said:

    The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has a nice Q&A page on roundabouts at Among the noteworthy A’s:

    “Despite the safety and other benefits of roundabouts, as well as the high levels of public acceptance once they are built, some states and cities have been slow to build roundabouts, and some are even opposed to building them. The principal impediment is the negative perception held by some drivers and elected officials. Transportation agencies also have long been accustomed to installing traffic signals, and it can take time for deeply rooted design practices to change.”

    October 20, 2008
  18. Bright Spencer said:

    I was startled by a big ol SUV racing through
    the roundabout at HWY 3, my first time thru.
    I had recently seen the other in Lonsdale and
    of course, Medford. I usually see drivers driving weirdly thru the Medford area, but no hits. I do worry about the ice factor in
    Farmington during the winter.

    October 21, 2008
  19. martha cashman said:

    I work in New Prague and drive the highway 19 roundabouts daily. I love them! They are easy to navigate. They slow traffic down, including the big grain trucks on their way to and from the mill. Love them, love them, love them.

    October 23, 2008

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