More roundabouts may be in Medford's future as state transportation officials begin a greater push to make intersections safer.
"Roundabouts nationally almost completely eliminate fatal and serious injury accidents," said Kevin Haas, traffic standards engineer for the Oregon Department of Transportation.
He said ODOT wants cities and the state to emphasize traffic safety as they design new street projects. Traffic safety was previously a minor issue as transportation officials focused on improving traffic flow patterns, Haas said.
ODOT has more than a decade of experience with about 100 roundabouts throughout the state, and they have statistics that back up claims that roundabouts, which are popular in Europe, parts of the East Coast and Washington state, are safer than intersections with signals in certain situations, particularly when two single-lane roads meet.
From 2009 to 2013, intersections in Oregon without any signals had 230 fatal accidents, while signalized intersections had 120 fatalities. Roundabouts have had no fatal accidents during that period, according to ODOT.
Seven percent of the accidents at intersections without signals caused fatal or serious injuries, 48 percent had minor injuries and 45 percent resulted in property damage to vehicles.
Three percent of accidents at intersections with signals involved fatalities or serious injuries, 47 percent had minor injuries and 50 percent resulted in property damage.
Just 1 percent of the accidents at roundabouts involved serious injuries, 34 percent had minor injuries and 65 percent resulted in property damage.
Medford's only roundabout, at Siskiyou and Highland, has had no fatal or serious accidents from 2011-2015, according to ODOT. Three accidents there had minor injuries and eight accidents resulted in property damage.
Medford officials are considering building more roundabouts, but they're often not possible because they require more land than an intersection with a signal, and they tend to be more expensive to build than regular intersections. However, over the long term, roundabouts are less costly to operate.
Cory Crebbin, Medford Public Works director, said the city has already acquired extra land at Springbrook Road and Cedar Links Drive for a possible roundabout there, but the area needs more study. He said the roundabout is budgeted and could be approved by the end of the year.
Another intersection being eyed is at Owen Drive and Crater Lake Avenue, though more analysis needs to be done to see if it would work there, Crebbin said.
Roundabouts wouldn't work on many of the city's 50 most dangerous intersections, which are surrounded by development and don't have enough available land. At the top of the list of dangerous intersections is Main Street at Ross Lane, 10th Street at Oakdale Avenue and Jackson Street at Riverside Avenue. Building roundabouts at these intersections would require buying additional properties.
"If you demolish housing or business, you're just priced out," Crebbin said.
In some cases, avoiding large land acquisitions means building smaller traffic circles that rely more on painted directional signs. Crebbin said the city will study whether that would work at some intersections in Medford.
Going forward, Crebbin expects the state to divert more transportation grants to cities planning to install roundabouts. In the past, ODOT has met with considerable opposition to roundabouts, but attitudes have been changing.
"When you introduce a roundabout to your citizens, they think you're nuts," Haas said.
Some communities that demanded a signal at intersections are now asking for roundabouts after they see how effective they've been, he said. Bend has a number of roundabouts.
Haas said ODOT has bowed to political pressure to put signals at intersections after some headline-grabbing fatal crashes.
In some instances, traffic signals have been installed, and the rate of serious accidents or fatalities has gone up, Haas said.
Part of the reason is that on highways where traffic is moving at about 55 mph, motorists blow red lights, Haas said. Also, motorists tend to get more distracted at intersections, sometimes texting or looking at cellphones while they're waiting for the light to change.
Because traffic moves constantly through a roundabout, motorists tend to be more alert, Haas said.
ODOT has been working with Jackson County to install a roundabout at Foothill Road and Highway 140. On high-speed roads, a series of curves leading up to a roundabout helps slow down traffic.
— Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.