May 8, 2023 - News

Des Moines staging a roundabout revolution

The city of Johnston has a series of roundabouts, including this one along Northwest 62nd Avenue. Photo: Courtesy of the city of Johnston

Roundabouts would be added along Hickman, Merle Hay and East Army Post roads under street improvement plans that go before city boards this week.

Why it matters: These are among the busiest streets in Des Moines.

  • If approved, they'll bring dramatic change to the metro's transportation network, embracing a national movement The Washington Post calls the "roundabout revolution."

Details: Hickman's roundabouts would be constructed at the intersections of 18th Street and Prospect Road.

  • A Merle Hay roundabout would be located at the Urbandale Avenue intersection under proposals that go tomorrow before the city's Transportation Safety Committee.

Meanwhile, the City Council is expected to approve a $500K grant today from the state for an East Army Post roundabout at the Southeast 36th Street intersection.

State of play: The changes are part of an ongoing effort to reduce accidents.

  • Lane reductions and sidewalk or recreational trail improvements would be included in most of the proposed areas.

Be smart: Roundabouts improve traffic flow, are safer for pedestrians and better for the environment, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

  • Initial skepticism about the systems has largely turned into widespread community support after drivers become familiar with them, multiple studies cited by the Institute show.

The big picture: The number of U.S. roundabouts is not tracked by federal agencies, but a database maintained by Oregon-based engineering firm Kittelson & Associates shows they've increased from fewer than 1,000 in 2003 to around 9,000 today.

Zoom in: There are more than 60 roundabouts in Iowa, according to data from the Iowa Department of Transportation.

  • Multiple metro suburbs have them but there's currently only one in DSM — on Gannett Avenue near the airport.

What they're saying: Tom Cameron, Prospect Park Neighborhood vice president, tells Axios he's in favor of the city's roundabout plan near his home along Hickman.

  • Cameron was not initially a fan of a roundabout in Johnston but found it was safer and didn't ultimately slow his work commute.

Of note: Hickman and Merle Hay's projects are anticipated to start in two or three years.

  • Construction of the Army Post project could begin next year.
A drawing of a roundabout.
The conceptual design for a roundabout at the intersection of Prospect and Hickman Roads. Drawing: Snyder & Associates via the city of DSM

Editor's note: This story’s photo caption has been corrected to note the roundabout is on Northwest 62nd Avenue, not 70th.


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