ROUNDABOUT BLAMED FOR DINGS

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By LINDA G. RASTELLI

When Monmouth County’s first ‘roundabout‘ — a miniature version of the old, widely dreaded traffic circle — opened at the entrance to Brookdale Community College in late August, a clutch of local and county officials turned out to tout a “traffic-calming” device they said was safer than the intersection it replaced.

But six weeks later, Brookdale students and staff appear to be calming their own nerves by avoiding the Route 520 roundabout entirely, contributing to more traffic and a slight increase in accidents at an alternate entrance to the college campus on Phalanx Road, authorities acknowledge.

Since the roundabout opened, Middletown police report four collisions at the Phalanx Road entrance to the college — compared to six for all of last year — and three accidents at the roundabout itself. All were fender benders without serious injuries, police say.

“The volume has increased greatly off Phalanx Road,” said campus Police Chief Bill Sandford. “Traffic on 520 is more backed up than normal this time of year because of people turning left at Phalanx to avoid the roundabout.”

This echoed what Middletown police say they’ve observed.

“More people are avoiding (the roundabout) it than using it,” said Sergeant Fred Deickmann, traffic bureau supervisor. “That’s changing the amount of traffic on Phalanx.”

From westbound 520, the Phalanx Road entrance is accessed by turning left just before the roundabout. Motorists heading into the campus must contend with traffic coming from the opposite direction, as well as those exiting the campus.

“We have to have our people physically out there in the middle of the road directing traffic, because there’s no light at that entrance,” said Sandford.

Two of the four Phalanx Road accidents occurred within a half hour of each other. There have been a total of six accidents at that intersection so far this year, said Deputy Chief Joseph Braun.

The three roundabout accidents involved cars being rear-ended while either yielding to enter the roundabout or yielding to roundabout traffic while making a right turn out of the campus, police said.

The roundabout is smaller than a traditional traffic circle. It also requires motorists to yield to before entering it, not when they’??re in it. Circles, on the other hand, sometimes require you to yield before entering, and sometimes also when you’re already in it, depending upon who has the right-of-way.

Confusion about that distinction may be scaring motorists away from the roundabout, authorities say.

Construction of the cirle was largely the result of lobbying by the Lincroft Village Green Association, which saw it as a preferable alternative to widening Route 520 (also known as Newman Springs Road). Jill Henry, vice president of the association, said she’s unfazed by the increased tie-ups and accidents, saying they’re “unfortunate,” but to be expected when something is new.

“Anytime you’d change the traffic pattern, you’d see an increase in accidents because people are unfamiliar with it,” she told redbankgreen. Some residents may have expressed “knee jerk opposition” at first, she says, but “people are appreciating it now.

“What I’ve heard lately has all been positive,” she says. “People are not nearly as opposed as they were.” Educating them as to who has the right-of-way is the solution to people’s hesitancy, she says. “People are unsure of who goes first.”

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony in August, redbankgreen photographed a near-miss — a confused motorist crossing into the left-hand oncoming lane of the roundabout, and then backing out to avoid a head-on collision with traffic exiting the circle from the west.

The roundabout cost $1.2 million. Whether it poses physical risks, police say, is too soon to call.

“It’s too early to tell,” says Braun. “It’ll be interesting to see the impact over a 6-12 month period.”

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