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Is it time to rethink roundabout safety?

Concerns popping up again after a pedestrian was seriously hurt when hit by a truck while crossing at a roundabout near Ira Needles and Erb
GM February 2 2022
At a roundabout on Ira Needles Blvd in Kitchener

Should pedestrians be crossing the road at a roundabout, or should marked crossings be moved outside the circles?

The question comes after a 21-year-old man was seriously hurt Tuesday when he was hit by a truck while crossing at a roundabout near Ira Needles Boulevard and Erb Street.

"I think the way [the Region of Waterloo] has got them designed is consistent with what the engineering standards are in what you see around the world so I don't think we've made a mistake in terms of how we intended to treat pedestrians," said Jeff Casello, Professor in the School of Planning at the University of Waterloo.

The gist of a roundabout is to keep the flow of traffic moving at a slower but steady pace compared to the open road but Casello said if drivers enter going too quickly, things can get dicey.

"What tends to happen is, if you enter into the roundabout at high speed it actually disrupts the flow of the roundabout and it can end up being contrary to what we're trying to accomplish," Casello said. "And of course slow and steady is something pedestrians can navigate but fast and irregular is something pedestrians can't navigate."

Casello did also point to drivers who may be too focused on looking left trying to find a gap in traffic and not paying enough attention to what's happening on their right, or at least remaining prepared to stop should a pedestrian be crossing there.

As is the case at any intersection though, he did also note the safest way to cross is for the pedestrian to also be making sure they're seen.

"Get the attention of the driver, and of course as a driver be looking for pedestrians, and if you can have that moment of eye-contact between the driver and the pedestrian than it becomes a much safer operation."

All that said, Casello did also acknowledge roundabouts are not one-size-fits-all and those in charge of design need to make sure each one is tailored to its function.

"Places like The Boardwalk, there's going to be a lot more pedestrians and we have to be more thoughtful about how we design that roundabout compared to a place where it is almost exclusively vehicle travel," he said.

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