Roundabout to be reduced to one lane

The roundabout at Forest Lake’s main intersection will look different come August, when MnDOT will change it to one lane. (File photo courtesy of Stantec)
The roundabout at Forest Lake’s main intersection will look different come August, when MnDOT will change it to one lane. (File photo courtesy of Stantec)

Traffic flow impressive, but two-lane intersection still creating confusion


Clint Riese
News Editor

One year after winning an engineering award, Forest Lake’s downtown roundabout will be restructured. Minnesota Department of Transportation officials presented at last week’s City Council workshop a plan to restripe the city’s main intersection into a one-lane circle.

The current two-lane model has succeeded in moving traffic swiftly and reducing serious accidents, but also continues to cause confusion that leads to fender-benders and close calls.

MnDOT East Area Manager Adam Josephson said the agency has created a large amount of roundabouts in the past five years and regularly monitors their performance.

“Roundabouts have kind of been a learning process,” he said.

According to MnDOT data, the Broadway Avenue-Highway 61 intersection saw 18 accidents from 2007-2009, with seven involving injuries. The roundabout opened in 2010. There were 25 accidents from 2011-2012, but only three involved injuries.

Most collisions result from one of two driver errors: drivers in the outside lane attempting to continue through the roundabout, and drivers entering the roundabout in the outside lane failing to yield to traffic exiting from the inside lane.

“At the present time we want to accommodate the traffic there and do it in as simple a way as we can,” Josephson said. “A single-lane roundabout is as simple as you can get. It’s a better way to handle the current traffic.

“This one is working well, but we think it can work a little better than it is.”

The double-lane roundabout was built to handle traffic volume projected in 2030. Re-striping it to a single lane should reduce accidents while still moving traffic faster than a signalized intersection, Josephson said. Unlike a straight road, a two-lane roundabout does not handle double the volume of a single-lane version.

“Roundabouts are kind of interesting in that capacity is very much driven by the time it takes for people to realize they can move into the roundabout,” Josephson said. “When there are two lanes, it takes a little longer to decide.”

The restriping cost is minimal and will be covered by MnDOT, Josephson said. He expects the work to be scheduled for

August and take no more than a couple days. The curbs will remain in place so the roundabout can be restriped to two lanes once traffic volume demands it.

Turn by turn

MnDOT’s plan includes dedicated right-turn-only lanes that sweep traffic outside the roundabout in two locations: turning south onto Highway 61 from eastbound Broadway Avenue and turning west onto Broadway Avenue from southbound Highway 61.

Drivers entering the roundabout from the south and east will funnel through one lane and can either turn right or continue through the roundabout.

City perspective

Though the city bore the bulk of the original construction bill, restriping falls on MnDOT under a maintenance agreement. The intersection is unique in that different roundabout legs are owned by the state, county and city.

The City Council seemed supportive of the plan as presented, City Administrator Aaron Parrish said.

“Like everything, this was a good opportunity to reflect on what’s working and what’s not,” he said. “It’s encouraging about how it’s performing, moving a higher volume than what was anticipated. From that perspective, this represents a nice opportunity to enhance what’s happening there.”

  • Junior

    I’m sure people will blame the city for not seeing this coming and other’s will blame driver’s for not having the capability to navigate a two-lane roundabout but I think the real problem was left out of the article: That most problems occur when two drivers make an error WHILE TEXTING THEIR BFF or while eating their Double Cheeseburger (with both hands) or while paying more attention to their poodle sitting in their lap with its head sticking out the window, etc, etc, etc.

    • Gail

      Junior, well put!! Also, I have found that many drivers seem to think they need to stop in the middle of the roundabout when there’s no traffic, instead of just moving through it. I bet most of the accidents were low-speed rear enders.

  • kate

    Facts about this exact specific issue were presented to the city council. It showed the problem with two lane roundabouts that one town had pursued and implemented. The amount of accidents skyrocketed with the two lane roundabout. Please note this article compares three years of accidents in a signalized intersection to two years of data in the roundabout – nice spin to make the roundabout seem less hazardous. If you break down the numbers Signalized intersections averaged 6 accidents per year while roundabout averaged 12 per year. Even with presented findings of skyrocketing accidents the council pushed ahead. What I’m concerned about now is that the two lanes both ways having to merge now before roundabout it’s going to bottle neck (create accidents) and there will be no cheap fix for that. I wonder how expensive this is going to be in the long run. Why can’t we learn from other towns mistakes instead of repeating them. Way to go – Forest Lake.

  • Kelly Wing

    ONE LANE? Are you serious? How will that fix things? What is likely to happen is that when several cars approach the roundabout, they’ll all stop and 1) traffic will stop flowing and 2) there will be more rear end fender benders. All it will take is one overly timid or distracted person to tie up the intersection for dozens.

    I’m sorry if this offends anyone, but our FL roundabout is SUPER easy to use! You only have to look ONE WAY and stay in your lane! If driver cannot handle that, then revoke their licenses.

    BTW… the designers did a great job, but the bureaucrats BLEW it by not foreseeing this “problem.”

    Have there been other roundabouts that have been altered due to incompetent drivers?

    The roundabout and new Broadway corridor have been huge improvements. Let’s petition MN-DOT to reverse their poor decision.

  • Eric Langness

    Can I say “WE TOLD YOU SO!” I was one of the people who worked diligently hard at stopping the original plans of building 9 of these things at every intersection on Broadway including the two I35 freeway ramps.

    Did the city listen? No. Did they care about our thoughts? No. Is it going to cost us millions and millions more? Yes.

  • Amanda

    I personally think the roundabout worked nearly perfectly as is. It’s a shame that the populations refusal and failure to learn to follow signs creates so much work for others.

    • Kelly Wing

      I agree. The roundabout is not hard to use. I take the intersection 20 times a week and it never has been hard.

  • John

    The reason that the two lane idea doesn’t work is because there are pinch points in each quadrant when a car in the inner lane exits and the adjacent car in the outer lane does not. The single lane will solve this problem. Kate is quite right about this problem having been brought forward by the Design Review Committee during the design and ignored by the engineers. That leaves the pedestrian problem yet to be addressed.

    In each of the 97/61 roundabouts, three of the quadrants are single lane and one is two lane. Should be fun. The roundabouts at 4 and 61 and at Kettle River and Broadway will be single lane version and will work as long as traffic slows down from 55 MPH in time.

  • Lisa

    I can’t believe this perfectly fine roundabout will be reduced to one lane. It’s not difficult to navigate at all, especially if you look at the sign and take it slow. But MNDOT should have designed it as one lane in the first place in order to “dumb it down” for those drivers who could be confused. I’m a professional writer and always write to a 6th grade level so everyone can understand what I write. Obviously, MNDOT should adopt the same policy and design roadways for beginning drivers. It’s unfortunate that additional money will be spent on this project, but not everyone understands how a two-lane roundabout is supposed to work.

  • Mel

    I can’t believe people can’t figure out how to use a two lane roundabout. I agree with you Kelly, the problem is not with the roundabout. I would like to see more of this type of traffic flow solution in and around the area. That would solve the problem of people not knowing how to use them. I try to take that route every time I go in that direction because it is so much faster and easier than the stop lights that riddle our streets. I would sign any petition that would reverse this decision.

  • Mike Carter

    The current roundabout is easy to use partially because it is symmetric. No matter what direction you enter the lanes work the same way. Now they want to make dedicated right turn only lanes when coming from the West or the North. From the West you will have people cutting from the right turn lane into traffic to use the circle, guaranteed. From the North it is less likely, but will happen. The same people who cannot figure out a two lane traffic circle are precisely the ones who do not know what lane they need to be in when approaching it. The traffic circle is extremely traffic friendly for drivers who slow down, and treacherous for all pedestrians who dare to cross the street there.

  • Terrie Sorenson

    Oh please. This so called fix will make it a nightmare for those of us who will continue to wait behind those who don’t know what their doing now in a single lane!! Think this so called fix again .

  • DJ

    I don’t like this decision either. Can’t people incapable of figuring out the roundabout just drive on 4th St?

  • Eugene Huerstel

    It is true, people in Forest lake know how to use the roundabout, they know how to use it incorrectly to. It is hard to get into it, when the traffic is heavy, I have seen people sit there for a long while. If the traffic in continuous its hard to get in. Specially if the cars do not leave space. The people in the roundabout have the right away and the ones trying to get in cannot get in. It works great when there is not much traffic. I would like to know the traffic count compared to when the lights were there. Its not that efficient when the traffic is heavy.
    If we would have put in 6 more roundabouts I’m sure the body shops would love it. Lets see, 6X25 in two years comes to 150 accidents.
    6 million dollars for this one (roundabout) and no money left for the intersection at 12th Street & 11th Avenue after we bought the houses for a nice turn lane and upgrades. Eugene Huerstel

  • John

    Mike, you are incorrect about the roundabout being symetrical and that all lanes work the same way. I invite you to look at and compare the lane signs and the lane striping for each of the quadrants individually. You’ll see that there are important differences unique to the two lane design. This is part of the difficulty and confusion that drivers encounter. In normal traffic on other streets, the traffic on the right has the right-of-way. However in the FL roundabout the striping and the police chief indicate that the vehicle in the inner lane exiting has the right-of-way over the vehicle on the right in the outer lane not exiting. This is the primary cause of the accidents and near misses with vehicles failing to yield before entering the roundabout second. Sit in the parking lot on the northwest corner sometime and you’ll see the problems in real time.

  • Lady of the Lake

    Previous comments have mentioned the difficulty pedestrians have crossing at the roundabout. I bike down to the lake and have never had a problem crossing at the roundabout, even on a busy morning. Drivers are courteous enough to stop for me.

  • keith

    Minnesota started dropping roundabouts on drivers without first educating the public about how roundabouts are designed and the rules for their usage, hoping that drivers will somehow figure it out. I find it interesting that the Driver Improvement Program classes for those over 55 don’t cover the subject properly. The classes have a short video which is basically a sales pitch for roundabouts, but do not discuss the designs of single and multi-lane roundabouts and the proper use of the lane(s). I thought these classes were to cover driving rules which have changed since those who’ve been driving for years learned to drive.
    Several writers above have commented on the driver in the outer lane of the Forest Lake roundabout having to yield to traffic in the inner lane wanting to exit the roundabout, this being in one writer’s term a “pinch point”. With the exception of the east side of the roundabout, traffic in the outer lane must exit the roundabout at the first opportunity. It’s just a matter of drivers knowing which lane to be in well in advance of coming to the roundabout and using the correct lane. But this would require drivers to put down their cell phones and pay attention to their driving.