Should Traverse City Have Traffic Roundabouts?

In the opinion of Traverse City Mayor Chris Bzdok roundabouts are the only option now on the table that would do anything to make Division Street safer and easier for people to cross on foot or a bike. Transportation engineers say roundabouts slow traffic, eliminate waiting at stop lights and reduce the number of serious accidents. But getting a clear read on public opinion about a proposal to build a series of roundabouts between Grandview Parkway and 14th Street may be a tall order. The community appears to be polarized on roundabouts, which need voter approval; other aspects of the proposal could be controversial as well.

At a study session last month people gave the commission firsthand accounts of the ease and even pleasure of driving on roundabouts. Others who had no experience said they too were convinced. Raymond Minervini, with the Minervini Group, said the majority of the property owners on the Grand Traverse Commons, three blocks from Division, like the idea.

“We would hope the community would be open-minded and consider the roundabout proposal with facts,” Minervini said.Notably absent from the meeting were words like “foolish” and “disaster,” which are being used frequently on websites and local radio shows to describe what people think of roundabouts. In fact, nobody spoke against the idea at the study session although commissioners know that people are expressing harsh criticisms elsewhere.

There were some specific complaints about other aspects of the proposal. Right now the plan calls for a new road, 8 ½ Street, to cut across the corner of the Grand Traverse Commons known as the Women’s Walk. One resident said that road could make the neighborhood around Munson Hospital and Building 50 a cut through for cars coming from west of the city and heading south. Voicing a similar concern, Julia Wagner said she didn’t mind roundabouts but doesn’t want one at 11th Street. She says her residential street shouldn’t be treated the same as a commercial street like Front. 

“I am concerned that 11th Street is going to become the next cross-town route,” Wagner said.

The city commission will take up the issue again at a study session on May 10 at 7 p.m.

What do you think of roundabouts? Great idea? Stupid idea? Further the dialog by sharing your experience and views in the comment section below.

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Article Comments

  • Anonymous

    They have used roundabouts in Europe for years- arguably in places far busier than Division St (try Champs Elysee in Paris or downtown Rome with 3 or 4 lane roundabouts!) and ‘somehow’ they seem to work – I am sure that TC drivers are smart enough to figure it out! Of course it does not solve the passage of pedestrians or bikes over Division to The Commons or Munson that exists now…..

  • Anonymous

    I have used roundabouts in various cities. It works very well in less congested areas with minimal speeds…once people get used to it. On the other hand, with higher speeds and high volume traffic, it is scary to say the least. Anyone been to Boston??? Of concern is not the TC residents, but tourists not familiar with roundabouts. I do have a concern at the intersection of Front & Division due to the large amount of traffic.

  • Anonymous

    The comments I am hearing elsewhere from the anti-roundabout folks seems to be based on emotion and ignorance of “modern traffic roundabouts.” (I am guessing there was similar resistance to electrification 100 years ago. Anyone complaining about electricity today?) Fact: the Central Neighborhood experiences cut through traffic TODAY. Why? because of the high speed of traffic entering from US31 South, and the stop and go nature of the street traffic at the signals. Roundabouts steady the flow and have been shown to REDUCE cut through traffic! People who study traffic calming, pedestrian, bicyclist and driver safety have overwhelming data to support the benefits of roundabouts. They are not perfect, but they are far better than ANY proposal to improve the many failings of dangerous Division Street. Before people say No, please do some basic research via Google.

  • Deb

    Thom Villing had these comments about roundabouts in the MyNorth Community.

    “I’m not an engineer, but our marketing agency is doing work with a civil engineering firm in South Bend that will be handling a roundabout project. This much I know. People need to be educated about them. They are inherently much, much safer than traditional intersections. But part of the educational process is teaching people how to use them. In the last few years, about four roundabouts have been built in South Bend including two on my way to work. It is very annoying how many people feel they need to stop before entering. Some are totally reluctant to get into the flow of the intersection. This unnecessary stoppage defeats much of the point of a roundabout. So I would encourage Traverse City to include a public education campaign as part of the process.”

  • Anonymous

    I don’t see how a roundabout would be safe or even feasible on a road that is a main traffic route for semis, not to mention the number of tourists that would not be familiar with the concept and create havoc.

    I believe the larger issue is our city planners that are allowing commercial buildings to be built so close to the roadways that future road expansion is almost impossible. I have lived a lot of places and have never seen city planners in areas where roads will clearly need to be expanded to accommodate future growth allow new buildings to be right up next to the road. Ten years from now, we’ll be talking about how Division needs to be 6 or 8 lanes + turn lanes. How will that happen at the corner of Front and Division with the Surgery Center and Bank right there? Both buildings are beautiful and very well-built, but severely limit our options and/or will cause those options to be much more costly.

  • Anonymous

    We have several roundabouts in my area. To say the least it has taken a long time (years) to educate the peope about how they are best used. There is always tourists coming here and their confusion, stopping, wrong lane, wrong exit, round and round that causes so much confusion to those who have mastered it already. Locals that have used the roundabouts want to go at a faster speed, tourists, in their uncertainity go slow. I would not advise their use where traffic volume is heavy, where large trucks (semi’s) need to go. And, I would suggest you post a very low speed limit for sure if or when you do put one in….at least for the first year while people are trying to get used to it and understand it…otherwise your number of fender bumpers will be frequent. Good luck!

  • Anonymous

    I don’t understand how roundabouts can possibly work but there are many people with experience using them that say they work. Have any of them experienced five roundabouts in a row like what’s proposed? This could be much different than just one roundabout.
    I’m wondering where the money will come from to change the existing roads when we’re told that there’s not enough money for the upkeep of existing roads and sidewalks.
    How about the size of these things? How are you going to fit a roundabout that can accomidate a semi-truck into the Division/Front St. intersection?
    The roundabout also looks like it would be terrible to try and cross on foot.
    I agree that something needs to be done to help keep traffic moving through town. So, if anything, why not try one roundabout and see how it works, after you figure out how to pay for it!

  • Anonymous

    I think that Traverse City can come up with a better plan to move traffic through the city.. I think that roundabouts would CLEARLY DISCOURAGE tourism and if I didn’t live here I should would AVOID the area if there were the DANGEROUS roundabouts.. Come on city planners get it together and COME UP WITH A BETTER PLAN to move traffic through the city……

  • Anonymous

    I hope we do get roundabouts. The first time is scary, but afterward, they are a great improvement over traffic lights.

  • Anonymous

    South Bend is horrible. Worst idea in years.

  • jennifer

    I love roundabouts – if they are well designed and there is a public education piece they work very, very well! Glad to see TC seriously considering them on what is now a very dangerous road.

  • Anonymous

    I agree that the roundabouts are better than traffic signals or Stop/Yield signs at facilitating traffic flow. No argument from me.
    BUT, I cannot begin to picture a roundabout being safe for pedestrians or bicyclists trying to get across a busy street where traffic is NOT forced to stop to allow safe passage — picture a senior citizen with a walker, or a blind person, or a mother with both toddlers in hand and baby-buggy being pushed… Or are the roundabouts going to include bridges/underpasses for the non-motorized citizens? Or are they going to include Yield/Stop signs (which totally destroys the advantages of a roundabout)?

  • Anonymous

    I oppose the roundabouts. You don’t have to educate people on how to stop for red traffic light. How much will it cost in studies, construction and “education”? I’ve been on a roundabout in Boston and the general attitude seems to be “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead”. I would bypass the fiasco personally.

  • Anonymous

    Oakland County has installed several roundabouts — a single lane roundabout in northern oakland county is far too small in diameter to be effective at smoothing traffic flow — but will adversely impact the environment by causing people to drive several miles extra to avoid it! Like most concepts, they have to be applied correctly to get the desired result — so if there’s more space available than a regular intersection, go for it.

  • Anonymous

    The problem with the roundabouts in Oakland County is that they were designed by MDOT – the geniuses who brought us the cross-over left turn.

    I currently live in a Middle Eastern country. Traffic and drivers here are insane. Accidents are prevalent and often fatal. Yet, I have observed far fewer accidents in any of the many roundabouts than I have on the highways or at conventional intersections.

    There are also many cross-over left turns and u-turns; the roundabouts are, by far, safer.

  • Anonymous

    We live in Central Florida and use the roundabouts located in The Villages with great ease. There must be 30 or more in the 10 mile X 15 mile complex. Traffic moves smoothly. Go for it TC!
    Pat Ford

  • Anonymous

    We would say NO to roundabouts!! We avoid them and they are much to confusing; you go into it and PRAY no one hits you till you get out. BAD IDEA!!

  • Anonymous

    Just got back from out east where roundabouts are everywhere. What a mess, say NO to roundabouts.

  • Anonymous

    Just got back from out east where roundabouts are everywhere. What a mess, say NO to roundabouts.

  • Anonymous

    These will be an unmitigated disaster during peak tourist season. They have them in Washington DC and if you are not very familiar with area you have not clue when to get out of the circle. And with most everyone using GPS navigation, my experience is current navigation does not work well with these roundabouts.

  • Anonymous

    in northern Macomb county-I have found that the roundabout installed to reduce traffic backup(M-53/18 mile) has more accidents( 2-3 per day per police) than before. Drivers race thru the rounabout as though it was
    the old straight lane intersection, semis and other delivery vehicles are left to fend for themselves(wait forever) because of the number of vehicles from all entry points.

    There is very little instruction on “HOW” to drive thru round-abouts…. the rule is: ANYONE in the round-about BEFORE you (in any lane,any exit point) YOU MUST YIELD TO… I was under the mis-taken impression, I was to find a safe entry point, and it was OK for me to enter the round-about.

    With the tourists new to town and not familiar with the layout or where they want to go, the roundabout is not a place to have to read directions. Let’s just deal with the traffic, adjust the timing, create alternates routes for different times of day, and let it be. The larger cities (New York Boston etc) have explicit delivery times for businesses and downtown areas). A combination of solutions will be more useful in my opinion.