The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) and the City of Kalispell identified this intersection as having more crashes than other similar intersections. They have determined that the safest and most efficient way to reduce the number and severity of crashes is to use a small single-lane roundabout. Two key factors went into the decision to move forward with a small roundabout:

  • It improves public safety for all road users including pedestrians and bicyclists.
  • It is a cost-effective investment that will last far into the future. The roundabout will efficiently handle traffic volumes for the next 20 years without additional investments.

WHY CHOOSE A ROUNDABOUT?

Roundabouts are safer than traditional intersections – they save lives. Roundabouts reduced injury crashes by 75 percent at intersections where stop signs or signals were previously used for traffic control, according to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

WHY BUILD SOMETHING “DIFFERENT”, WHEN ALL THAT IS NEEDED IS EITHER STOP SIGNS OR A TRAFFIC SIGNAL?

Improvements like stop signs, while very familiar, aren’t always the safest choice. With intersections representing about one quarter of annual U.S. traffic fatalities and roughly half of all injury crashes, safer designs are needed that improve mobility while saving lives. Since the late 1990s, an ever-growing number of State DOTs and local road agencies are finding that roundabouts work in their jurisdictions. Their potential for saving lives is too significant to ignore.

WHAT TYPES OF CRASHES DO ROUNDABOUTS REDUCE?

Roads entering a roundabout are gently curved to direct drivers into the intersection and help them travel counterclockwise around the roundabout. The curved roads and one-way travel around the roundabout reduce the possibility and severity of T-bone and head on collisions. Low speeds associated with roundabouts allow drivers more time to react to potential conflicts, also helping to improve the safety performance.

  • A roundabout in Helena at the intersection of Canyon Ferry Road and Lake Helena Drive reduced crashes by 70% and eliminated fatalities over a five-year period.

HOW WILL A ROUNDABOUT WORK IN THE WINTER WITH THE CONRAD HILL?

Grades on the Conrad Drive approach have been evaluated to determine how to make it easier for people to navigate through the intersection. For example, we know that rebuilding the Conrad Drive hill would have significant impacts to adjacent properties, making it an unrealistic option. We can, however, provide a minor flattening of the Conrad intersection at the roundabout. The roundabout and minor adjustments to the intersection grades will have these benefits:

  • Improve sight distances and make it easier for vehicles to navigate the roundabout.
  • The vehicle entering the roundabout from the Conrad approach will have better sight distance to the left and a flatter landing if they need to stop to yield to on-coming traffic or for pedestrians.
  • The improved sight distances also provide more time for entering drivers to judge gaps (they only have to focus on traffic to their left to enter the roundabout), adjust speed, and enter a gap in circulating traffic already in the roundabout.
  • Roundabouts promote a continuous flow of traffic. Traffic is not required to stop – only yield. With a roundabout, it is unnecessary for traffic to come to a complete stop when no conflicts present themselves.

WHAT ABOUT THE CONRAD HILL UNDER ICY WINTER CONDITIONS?

A number of communities in snowy areas have successfully installed roundabouts including as far north as Alaska (more than 40 roundabouts in the state) and other Montana communities like Helena, Missoula and Billings. For example, the Miller Creek roundabout in Missoula has similar grades entering the roundabout. According to the City of Missoula, the roundabout functions well and is well received by the public. In Fairbanks, Alaska, the Steese/Chena Hot Springs Roundabout sits at the top of crest and also has some similar approach slopes.

To help mitigate any potential impacts during the winter:

  • The City of Kalispell will continue to service Conrad Drive hill as a first priority winter maintenance route.
  • Resurfacing the roadway with a crushed ceramic material is being considered to help increase friction during winter weather conditions.

WHAT ABOUT TRUCKS, SCHOOL BUSES AND EMERGENCY VEHICLES?

MDT has worked with the local trucking industry to improve roundabouts for large trucks and other oversized vehicles such as school buses, RVs, equipment, and horse trailers. This roundabout has been designed to fit within the context of the neighborhood and the lower volume roadways leading into the roundabout, while still accommodating larger vehicles when they need to use this route. The interior section of the roundabout, containing colored and patterned concrete, is called a truck apron and larger vehicles are encouraged to use the truck apron to be able to safely drive through the roundabout. The back wheels of the oversize vehicle can ride up on the truck apron so it may easily complete the turn, while the raised portion of concrete discourages use by smaller vehicles.

WHAT ABOUT PEDESTRIANS AND BICYCLISTS?

Roundabouts make things easier for pedestrians and bicyclists too. The slower speeds and one-directional traffic flow in a roundabout limit crossing conflicts and give vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians more time to react to one another. A successful example is the roundabout at the intersection of College and 11th at Montana State University (MSU) in Bozeman which has heavy vehicular, pedestrian and bicycle use. There has been a reduction in the number and severity of crashes.

All pedestrians must cross at the designated crosswalks and should never cross through the center island. When driving through a roundabout, vehicles must yield to pedestrians. Although vehicles are required to stop for pedestrians, pedestrians should always exercise caution when crossing.

CAN ANY DESIGN FEATURES BE ADDED TO IMPROVE THE AESTHETIC OF THE ROUNDABOUT TO MATCH THE HISTORIC DISTRICT CHARACTER?

As the design progresses, MDT and the City of Kalispell will assess ways to improve the look of the roundabout.

HOW TO NAVIGATE A ROUNDABOUT

Knowing how to properly navigate a roundabout promotes a safe traffic flow for motorized and non-motorized users alike.

  • First, all must ensure they slowly approach a roundabout. Slowing down is one of the most important steps to safely engage with the roundabout configuration. The Federal Highway Administration recommends driving speeds in roundabouts to be 15 to 20 miles per hour or less.
  • Second, check for and yield to pedestrians and cyclists who are in the crosswalk or who are waiting to enter the crosswalk.
  • Third, look to the left. Traffic flows in a counterclockwise direction. Yield to vehicles that are in the roundabout already. They have the right of way.
  • Fourth, stay to the right. Upon entering the roundabout, stay to the right of the center island. Do not stop if the way is clear. Never pass or overtake another vehicle after entering a single lane roundabout.
  • Fifth, travel around the circle. Vehicles must travel around the circle until the driver has approached the desired street. Drivers should use their right-turn signal to exit the roundabout, again checking for and yielding to pedestrians and cyclists who are in the crosswalk or who are waiting to enter the crosswalk.

WHO WILL MAKE THE FINAL DECISION REGARDING THE INTERSECTION IMPROVEMENTS?

The City of Kalispell and MDT.

WHO IS PAYING FOR THE IMPROVEMENTS?

This project is paid for with Federal Highway Safety Improvement Program funds and the proportional state match funds required to receive federal funding.