By G. Anthonie Riis | Fort Knox NewsJanuary 16, 2019
Stithton Circle is one of the safest intersections at Fort Knox.
Installation emergency services officials said their claim is backed up by the lack of reported accidents that have occurred at the circle.
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet also backs up that claim.
In an article titled "Modern Roundabouts 101," the cabinet writes that modern roundabouts maximize safety while minimizing delay when compared to earlier traffic circles or standard four-way intersections.
Historically, roundabouts adhered to a "get in where you can fit in" mentality, where motorists rarely yielded to traffic already in the roundabout.
Traffic engineers sought to fix that with modern roundabout designs and policies.
Current roundabout designs adhere to three basic principles: they require drivers to yield on entry to the roundabout; they deflect all traffic in the same direction - a counterclockwise flow; and, they force slower vehicle speeds entering a roundabout because of the road's geometric curvature.
The article concludes that by using these concepts, the roundabout provides a vast improvement over standard intersections in the United States, reducing potential collision locations from 32 in a typical intersection to eight in a roundabout.
Safety numbers support that conclusion.
In a Kentucky public informational brochure titled "How to Use a Roundabout," statistics reveal that where roundabouts are used, vehicle collisions drop by 37 percent, collision resulting in injuries drop by 75 percent, collisions involving fatalities decrease by 90 percent and collisions involving pedestrians drop by 40 percent.
The same article cites research studies that claim roundabouts also reduce delays as much as 89 percent, vehicle stops by 56 percent, fuel consumption by 34 percent and vehicle emissions of 68 percent.
Coupled with safety designs, safer policies for navigating roundabouts have also helped, according to state officials. The following are some of the general rules motorists must follow:
* Slow down when approaching the roundabout, and yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk.
* While approaching the yield line, look to the left and yield to traffic already circulating in the roundabout. Enter the roundabout only when there is an adequate gap in the traffic flow.
* Keep speeds low and proceed to your exit. You have the priority when traveling in the roundabout, so never stop while in it.
* On approaching your exit, watch out for pedestrians, and use your right turn signal to exit the roundabout.
* Bicyclists negotiating the roundabout must adhere to the same rules as automobiles, or they may walk their bicycles through a pedestrian crosswalk. Motorists should never pass a bicyclist in a roundabout.
* Do not enter the roundabout when an emergency vehicle approaches from another leg of the intersection. Allow vehicles in the roundabout to clear in front of an emergency vehicle.
* Do not pass large trucks, buses or recreational vehicles while in the roundabout because they may require extra space to negotiate the radius.
Though roundabouts are becoming more and more commonplace in the state, Stithton Circle has been around since Fort Knox's infancy, according to Matthew Rector, Fort Knox historic preservation specialist.
"For a time, the Stithton Circle was the civic center and an important business location on post. The PX, a bank, eateries and other stores were located there, and the Greyhound bus and taxi cab station were located in close proximity," Rector said. "West of the traffic circle, you had the important business district, and to the east, you had the heart of the post with Brooks Field. The circle facilitated traffic to all of it."
Staff Sgt. Daniel Stein, noncommissioned officer in charge of traffic at the Directorate of Emergency Services, said despite its lack of modern updates, Stithton Circle remains less problematic than traditional intersections.
"There are definitely less accidents when you compare [Stithton Circle] against intersections with similar traffic throughput, and traffic moves quicker through the roundabout," Stein said. "[Roundabouts] in general make drivers pay more attention to their surroundings and what is going on."
According to a Department of Transportation article titled "Roundabouts: An Informational Guide," more than half of crashes at roundabouts are due to drivers failing to yield when entering the roundabout. The article suggests accidents can be reduced with education.
"There are speed deterrents before you enter the circle, and yield signs are placed before all the entrances to the Stithton Circle. You always yield to your left side when entering the traffic circle," Stein said. "You can attribute this [error] to the lack of knowledge that drivers have negotiating [roundabouts]."
Stein said roundabout rules are critical for Stithton Circle's unique five-exit design, especially at South Knox and Pell Street entrances, where drivers must enter in close proximity to each other and may need to double check before proceeding.
In such cases, Stein said safety at Stithton Circle should be equal parts common sense and common courtesy.
"You should yield to the left, but it is also a safe practice to make sure no one is coming through the yield sign on your right side," said Stein. "Adhering to the rules is the correct answer, but it is never a bad thing to be more cautious while driving in the traffic circle."