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Circular argument: Transportation officials say roundabouts are a safe solution, but they puzzle some drivers

Five years ago, there were no roundabouts in the Capital District. Now there is one in Voorheesville, seven in Malta with three more on the way, and at least three roundabouts slated for construction in Slingerlands by 2008.

If roundabouts are becoming more popular, why are some drivers so afraid of them?

There's a learning curve there, said Peter Van Keuren, a spokesman with the state Department of Transportation.

The roundabout is a circular intersection first used in Europe and designed to improve safety, ease traffic delays and improve overall aesthetics. When roundabouts first started popping up in the United States in the1950's, there were several safety and operational problems with them. Transportation officials said they believe updated designs have made modern versions much safer.

"Typically there is a lot of skepticism," said Van Keuren. "When a roundabout is in place many of those skeptics become believers."

Heavy traffic backups near the Malta Northway exits along Interstate 87 prompted the state to work with town officials to build several roundabouts in the area over the past two years.

Malta supervisor Paul Sausville said he believes roundabouts are much more efficient than red lights at an intersection.

"They do take some adjusting to," said Sausville. "Elderly seniors who are not assertive drivers are quite puzzled by them initially."

Sausville said state transportation officials were quite thorough when informing residents about all of the construction phases of the project.

"In one neighborhood with 1,700 homes, they handed out brochures to every neighbor," Sausville said.

Sausville said the most important point people need to know when entering a roundabout is, once you are in the circle, you have the right of way.

"The trick is that you have to be cautious," said Sausville, who said he has seen only minor fender benders in his town since roundabouts have been built.

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