PORT ORCHARD — The two new Tremont Street roundabouts — at the South Kitsap Boulevard and Pottery Avenue intersections — should help move traffic along faster and more uniformly on one of the city’s busiest arterials.
According to Brian Walsh, a traffic design engineer with the Washington State Department of Transportation, roundabouts are becoming increasingly popular in the U.S., as they have been for many decades in Europe.
The multi-lane roundabouts, whose design is based on creating better vehicle traffic flow at slower speeds, will take some getting used to for many Port Orchard drivers. These multi-lane traffic design elements are new to the city. But some other cities in Kitsap and Pierce counties have integrated them into their transportation grids. Gig Harbor is home to a series of roundabouts and Silverdale has a number of them at similar intersectional locations.
Port Orchard has a single-lane roundabout at the intersection of Bethel Avenue and Mile Hill Drive (it was the first roundabout built in the state), and it was a fairly straightforward proposition to understand and maneuver. But with the repaving being done at Mile Hill Drive and Bethel, restriping has been applied to the roundabout there, turning it into a two-lane circle.
Doug Adamson, a spokesman with the Washington State Department of Transportation, however, said the Bethel-Mile Hill roundabout’s restriping is only temporary during the repaving and ADA retrofitting work and will remain a single-lane circle afterward.
So, for Port Orchard drivers this week, having two multi-lane roundabouts to contend with has made some motorists a bit nervous.
They ask: just how do you approach these European imports?
Drivers yield to oncoming traffic from the left within the roundabout as they prepare to enter the circle. But first, they need to slow down, enter and then turn right from the roundabout at the proper exit. It would benefit other drivers if they use their turn signals.
Why do we have roundabouts?
The multi-lane design, however, requires drivers to understand some additional, but basic, rules of the road. For drivers unfamiliar with multi-lane roundabouts, here’s a brief overview:
Roundabouts — single-lane and multi-lane — are in place for two reasons: to slow traffic speeds and create a safer place for directional traffic to travel and turn, Walsh said. Mark Dorsey, Port Orchard’s director of public works and city engineer, said having controlled and comparative entering and exiting speeds are a critical part of the design element. Drivers entering a roundabout must always enlist their defensive driving skills and yield to oncoming traffic as they follow the directional arrow at the entrance.
Here’s a critical road rule: Decide BEFORE entering the roundabout what lane you wish to travel. And don’t change lanes when you’re inside the circle, Walsh said.
What lane you choose will be dictated by where you want to go. Choose the right lane if you plan to take an immediate right turn. Also stay in this lane if you wish to continue driving straight ahead. Make sure you are in the left lane before reaching the roundabout if you plan to make a left turn, as you would at a regular intersection. You also would stay in the left lane if you want to remain in the inside lane heading forward.
If you need to make a u-turn and head in the opposite direction, get into, or stay in, the left lane before entering the roundabout. Then stay left as you circle around to the inside lane in the opposite direction.
Again, it’s critical to always yield to oncoming traffic in the roundabout. And when you enter, always allow sufficient space between you and the vehicle in front.
Don’t overtake vehicles and change lanes in a roundabout. Keep at a slow, steady speed.
What about those traffic signals at Pottery?
Some Port Orchard drivers have grumbled on social media about the signal lights at the Pottery roundabout: why is there a need for signals, they ask? What are they for, why are they there and are they going to remain?
Their concerns are somewhat overblown. The signal lights are, in reality, emergency signals that were installed with the nearby South Kitsap Fire and Rescue fire station, just blocks away, in mind.
Opticom-activated traffic signals were installed at the Pottery roundabout to direct drivers — or stop them — should an emergency vehicle approach the intersection on an urgent call.
Dorsey said emergency responders have the option to stop traffic in every direction with the light signals so they can use the “slip lane” to enter the oncoming lane, or freeze three legs of the roundabout traffic and move on a green light in the emergency vehicle’s lane. And, yes, the caution signals are permanent.
If you get the rules of the roundabout clear in your mind, traveling through these new intersections on Tremont Street will be a piece of cake (and by the way, get a slice at the city’s end-of-construction celebration on Friday).
Note: A print version of this story inferred that the Bethel-Mile Hill roundabout was revised to become a two-lane circle. The restriping that currently exists is temporary during repaving work there, said Doug Adamson, a spokesman for the Washington State Department of Transportation.