Roundabouts spread on the Iron Range

Back when Washington County stuck a roundabout in Woodbury — one of the first in Minnesota — there was the usual caterwauling about something different. In the years since, the traffic has been much more manageable than when a four-way stop backed up traffic during rush hour.

Now, roundabouts are spreading north and some people are none too happy about it.

MnDOT is about to start a $2.85 million project to replace signals at the intersection of U.S. Highway 169 and Minnesota Highway 37 in Hibbing. Four lanes of divided highway converge in a jumble now.

It’s taken a lot of convincing to get people on board, the Duluth News Tribune reports. People like the jumble they know over the roundabout they don’t, as comments to a Facebook post explaining the project recently showed.

“They’re only good when everybody doesn’t have the mentality that ‘I was here first so I get to go.’ When everyone thinks that you have 4 cars all going at the same time and the only one that makes it out without a fender bender is the one with a luck to squeak through first before the collision hits lol.”

“Just what Hibbing needs more confusion.”

“Looks like it has bridges over the frontage roads. Seems like such overkill for what’s really needed there. Just fix the pot holes!”

“Do you really believe the people of Hibbing want this ? The mayor is the only one I believe because he says it’s free.

If you want to bring roundabouts to the masses, you have to put a lot of work into addressing the fear people have about them.

That’s where the city folks come in.

(Video link)

The News Tribune says people “up north” are finally warming to the idea.

Hibbing has Ron Wirkkula to thank for its citizens warming to the idea of a roundabout. Wirkkula is the president of Hibbing Public Access Television. He went about assuaging public concerns by frequently airing public-service programming on how to use roundabouts, and taping and airing discussions with MnDOT experts as they addressed the project and local concerns.

“Some people are scared to death, but some of us are looking forward to it — and I’m one of them,” Wirkkula said. “It’s a bad, worn-out intersection. A lot of times there’s huge semi-trailer trucks hauling (to the mines). They’ve had to design for extra-big trailers. They have a plan and it’s kind of neat.”

Wirkkula said he expects to film a first-person video of himself driving the roundabout upon its completion, so that he can air it as an instructional video.

Moose Lake and Hermantown are also scheduled to get roundabouts this year.

More transportation: What Happened to the Bike? The Lack of Diversity on the Midtown Greenway (

  • MrE85

    I blame you for this, Europe. You have us driving in circles.

  • Zachary

    I love roundabouts – they are intuitive and easy to navigate. You just have to have the understanding of where your exit is, and what lane you need to be in. That and always Yield to traffic already in the roundabout.
    Also – use your blinkers – it helps the person waiting at the next entrance to know that they can enter now.

    • Jerry
      • Zachary

        I’m sure it makes sense on the ground. But, seriously, that looks less like a roundie, and more of parade staging ground 🙂
        It almost appears that the smaller circles are U-turn lanes? which make no sense in a roundie in the first place. Where is this at?

        • Jerry

          Swindon’s Magic Roundabout, in the U.K.

          • Zachary

            It actually makes some sense reading about it. If you want to go to your immediate left, you can (using the inner roundies) rather than going all the way around, which you can do if you want to. Like all traffic control devices, follow your signage and know your lane.

          • Jerry

            I’m sure it works fine and is probably best for a complicated intersection, but I can’t look at and say it is intuitive.

  • Gary F

    Great, they get the Richfield guy to explain roundabouts. Richfield has two of the most chaotic roundabouts in the metro. Portand and 66th and Cedar and 66th. Lots of horn honking, brakes squealing, and many non misses.

    • Good thing, then, that they didn’t have DRIVERS in Richfield explain how a roundabout works since it’s clear they don’t know.

      • Gary F

        Richfield drivers are cursing more than just the round about, 66th st has been under construction for the last couple of years.

        • Al

          And they don’t hesitate to call up Richfield city staff to give them hell about it.

        • Dan

          The Portland and 66th one was among reasons cited by Minneapolis for NOT putting a roundabout at Franklin/Cedar/Minnehaha. Multi-lane roundabouts apparently have been difficult for Minnesotans to master.

          There’s a series of single-lane roundabouts on Hwy 7 west of the metro, I think those work great.

    • Funny, I’ve never had a problem or even seen what you describe with those two roundabouts, and I’m over there quite often.

      • Kassie

        Yep. We go through them regularly and almost never see an issue.

    • Rob

      Sounds like people in Richfild are unclear on the basic concept of roundabouts: Approaching traffic yields to traffic already in the roundabout – AND yields to putzes who are entering the roundabout without waiting their turn.

      • crystals

        We really aren’t.

        Maybe 5% of the time I go through someone does something stupid, like adjust lanes mid-rotary or go when they shouldn’t. I’ve never once seen an accident and my travel times are way better than when those intersections used to be lights. I’ll gladly accept safer and faster roads while being mildly annoyed 5% of the time.

        • Rob

          No argument – I like roundabout/rotaries just fine.

    • crystals

      I drive them every day, multiple times a day. This is not my experience in the slightest.

  • jon

    Roundabouts can be good and roundabouts can be fatal.

    I’m taking this from the perspective of my motorcycle, because in the car I’ve got bunches of airbags and such to protect me, and enough mass to get the other guy as good as he can get me…

    Problem #1 the middle of the roundabout.
    Right now several roundabouts I come into contact have statues, or mounds of landscaped stuff, or just mounds of dirt there… it blocks visibility to who else is at the intersection until they are right on top of you. not a big deal for big cars, big deal for small motorcycles.
    My proposed solution, maybe the middle a big hole in the ground that we can plow the snow into in the winter, if it’s deep enough geothermal effects might melt some of that snow for us and reduce spring time runoff of sand and salt into rivers and streams.

    Problem #2 Road stickers/paint.
    There are roundabout stickers to indicate which lane can go which ways, it’s the paint on the ground. When it rains these stickers/paint often get slick as snot, which is not a big deal if you are going straight, and not trying to accelerate or deccelerate on them. In a roundabout with crosswalks, the crosswalk paint has the same effect. because a roundabout requires you to vear right, then back left to get into the circle, and the sticker always seem to go on the patch of road where you vear right it creates a corner for motorcycles where you need to either ride on a potentially slick surface, or weave between the paint markings while potentially slowing down for oncoming traffic (which you might not see, or might not see you until the last minute because of problem #1).
    My solution, move the crosswalks back to before the curve in the road, put up signs for any lane indicators since in the wintertime those are covered by snow anyhow (this applies to regular controlled intersections also).
    Moving the crosswalk also means that motorists only need to worry about other motorists in the traffic circle itself, not motorists and pedestrians.

    Problem #3 other motorists.
    This is a problem on every stretch road… I’ve no solutions.

    Problem #4 a traffic circle is really just merging and MN sucks at that.
    I’ve no solution for this either… it seems to be systemic and I assume it’s parents teaching their children bad habits… maybe traffic circles are the solution here, Learn how to merge Minnesota.

    • If you increase the visibility on the other side of the roundabout, I GUARANTEE you’ll have people speeding up and trying to beat them into the roundabout. The whole idea is to slow traffic to 20. If people simply slow down , then the time you have to see other traffic is greately increased.

      • wjc

        Good luck with that slowing down thing.

        • Woodbury drivers have mastered it. If Woodbury drivers can do it, any driver can.

          • Woodbury driver here. I love them, having lived overseas and learned to master them while also driving on the left. We could use more of them on the northern section of Radio Drive, where motorists regularly ignore pedestrians and run red lights.

          • 212944

            Or police officers runnng traffic duty, esp. the Radio-Valley Creek intersection (surprisingly close to the WPD, yet the scene of soooo many blown red lights and illegal turns).

            Woodbury drivers have roundabouts mastered for the most part. Following other traffic laws? Not so much, but that is par for the course in the Twin Cities.

          • True, though rebuilding that one would be complicated and expensive. But worth it!

          • Jerry

            I just wish they hadn’t made Tamarack Village a giant roundabout.

          • I live near Tamarack Village and walk there sometimes. That design with the circle really cuts into walkability – not that great to drive, either.

          • tboom

            Maple Grove drivers? Don’t hold your breath. It’s like Rollerball, all the rules (of the road) have been suspended.

          • 212944

            One of my favorite Police report entries that made its way to the Strib’s Sunday Eastern Metro section a few years ago was a report of – in Woodbury, of course – someone having set up orange cones blocking all exits of one of the roundabouts on Bailey Road as a prank, confounding a few drivers before the cones were removed (am sure it was Bailey … at the time I think they were only on Bailey in Woodbury).


      • jon

        I’m going to say you just accurately described problem #3…

        No matter what you do some idiot is going to try to turn it into a street race…

        in theory looking straight down the road no reason to assume that the car coming towards you is going to make the left… but some idiot is going to race through the intersections regardless of if they are roundabouts or intersections, or cloverleaf onramps…

      • Zachary

        In some parts of the Middle East that I have been to, all the roundies are flat and have straight entrances (no s-curves) so their solution is to put massive speed bumps right in front. Doesn’t help much with the slowing down (all braking happens 5m from the entrance).

    • JB

      You don’t merge at a roundabout, you yield to vehicles to your left. Somewhere along the line Minnesota drivers decided that yield signs mean merge. They mean yield. Also, Bob is correct in that engineers don’t want you to see “through” the roundabout. That would increase speeds. All you need to do is be able to see if vehicles are coming from your left. Again, so you can yield to them.

      • jon

        You always yield for a merge.. it’s in the driving handbook.

        A merge is always a yield, a yield isn’t always a merge, (but most of the time… most of the regular 4 way intersections went to stop signs instead of yield signs.)
        A yield just means “stop if there is traffic”
        A merge means “enter a lane of moving traffic, and stop if there is traffic”

        You are entering a circular lane, merging into traffic in that circular lane.

        It’s a merge, look for a gap in traffic and enter it, stop only if you have to.

        • Rob

          More fully, Yield means slow down, look carefully, and don’t commit to entering the new roadway until you determine it’s safe and clear. If it ain’t, slow down even more AND be prepared to come to a full stop if necessary.

        • JB

          “You are entering a circular lane, merging into traffic in that circular lane.” Nope. That’s the fundamental misunderstanding of a roundabout. Ignore the circle. It’s only there to separate opposing directions of travel. A roundabout is nothing more than a traffic control device that separates traffic and uses yield signs to establish right-of-way. If there’s traffic approaching to your left (either lane in a multi) you yield to them, otherwise you go. You are not merging into any lanes since you are already in the lane. You will either turn left from that lane, go straight, or turn right.

  • ET

    My favorite joke about roundabouts:
    Aitkin is also getting one, with the expected gnashing of teeth and rending of garments.
    To the locals, fixing an intersection with multiple fatalities means putting in a stoplight and backing traffic up a couple of miles.

    • crystals

      Look, kids! Big Ben! Parliament!

      (Didn’t even watch the video, it’s that seared into my brain.)

      • ET

        I say this to my kids every time we go through one. Of course, they have no idea what I’m talking about.

  • Chris

    Yesterday the New Hampshire DOT released an instructional video on driving in a two lane roundabout. Maybe the good folks on the Iron Range would find it helpful.

  • Will

    I’m not a big fan of putting roundabouts in areas where older people who have never seen them must now adapt and use them, generally they just don’t get it. They put one in Burnsville about 10 years ago, it was unnecessary since the road wasn’t busy and had a main road with no traffic control and 2 stop signs on the smaller road. It didn’t help that there was an old folks home on one end of that roundabout. I saw about 2-3 actual accidents on that roundabout over the next few months and about a dozen near misses, I never once saw a problem with the stop signs.

    • BJ

      People get in accidents at stop signs all the time. ALL THE TIME.

      • And the T-bones are often fatals. No T-bones in a rotary…err… roundabout.

        • Will

          True, but I never once saw a near accident at that intersection while the roundabout literally caused accidents and created a less safe situation.

          • BJ


            I don’t think that means what you think it means

          • Will

            I’m not an English nerd(I’m a nerd of another kind), if I used a word how it is used commonly instead of exactly correctly then you’ll have to forgive me because I plead ignorance on that issue.

        • tboom

          No T-bones and no head-ons. I believe the accident numbers are similar but severity is much lower on roundabouts

      • Rob

        Yup. One of the closest calls I’ve ever had involved a four-way stop, where a Ford F-150 blew the sign at 30 MPH.

      • Will

        In my neighborhood we have 4 way intersections with no stop signs… the 1950s neighborhood must have been grandfathered in or something. There was only once that I recall both people thought they had the right of way and crashed hard into my nextdoor neighbor’s yard. Stop sign intersections have extremely low percentages of crashes compared to other types of controls.

        • My guess is there’s a pecking order of traffic intensity for traffic controls ranging from no stop sign, to stop sign, to traffic light, to roundabout . I would expect the most crashes to be at the high end although I think the primary different where roundabouts and traffic lights are concerned is the severity of the crash. As has already been pointed out, it’s pretty hard to be t-boned in a roundabout.

          • Will

            I did look for studies on the issue of roundabouts back when they were installed…I think the results were more smaller scale accidents immediately and less as time went on. Similar to red light cams…more small accidents​ with people stopping on yellow but less t-boning.

          • That was our experience in Woodbury. An early number of minor accidents, a few people who used them as places to pass slower vehicles (idiots), and eventual acceptance and normalcy.

    • One of these days I’m going to have to do a post about how young folks believe old folks are too stupid to live in today’s technology.

      • Jim in RF

        It’s going to be a long post.

      • Zachary

        you should have a Friday “whatever” post – talk about old people, puking in purses, etc…

      • Will

        Actually the business I just started is about bridging that gap…

      • Rob

        Are you talking about flip-phones and Walkmen?

    • ET

      I also like how the minute someone says “roundabout”, everyone becomes a civil engineer. “That intersection doesn’t need one! Stop signs inhibit traffic flow and that’s fine for us!”

      Just like determining which roads in “northern Minnesota” need repair. “I just hope we can do better with prioritizing road repairs, I see it every time I head north. Newly paved roads everywhere (on roads that were perfectly fine before) while back roads and major entrance and exit ramps onto highways in the cities are filled with potholes.” The locals know which roads need repair.

  • Laurie K.

    Mankato is doing fine with their roundabouts. There was in an increase initially in accidents, however, the severity of the damage/injuries was substantially reduced. Even my mother in law who swore she would never drive through a roundabout has become a believer. There was a lot of PR from MNDot on how to properly use the roundabouts including setting up a temporary roundabout in a parking lot and allowing people to use golf carts to navigate it.

  • Jeff C.

    Why are these being called “roundabouts”? That is what they are called in Europe. In America they are called “rotaries”.

    • Zachary

      MnDot has them listed as “Roundabouts”.

      I think “rotaries” are a club of some sort…. 🙂

      • ET

        //”rotaries” are a club of some sort
        And really cool sounding engines.

        • Rob


      • Jeff C.

        MnDot is trying to sound all fancy-like. Google says a rotary is:

        North American
        a traffic circle.

        and a roundabout is:

        British term for traffic circle.

    • Rob

      I believe they’re called potatos in Europe; here they’re called potahtoes.

      • kevins


  • dukepowell

    This controversy reminds me of the enactment of Daylight Savings Time in my home state of Indiana. One would have thought the world was coming to an end.

  • Postal Customer

    $2.85m for a road in Hibbing. Yes, Hibbing. Can you find it on a map?

    MN-36 thru Roseville was last upgraded when Richard Nixon was president. Nearby, it can take upwards of 15 minutes to cross Snelling Avenue during rush hour. Imagine what that $2.85m could do for a part of the Twin Cities, a place that actually has traffic.

    • BJ

      Cost of a road is dependent on someone on newscut being about to do geography?

      • I’ve actually been to Hibbing so I know what I’m talking about a little bit. There are very few highways in and out of Hibbing (Spoiler alert: three) and people who live there have to get to places too. If the argument is no money should be spent on outstate roads, well, please.

    • Jerry

      I feel like 36 has been under construction for the past decade.

    • Mike Worcester

      MN 36 underwent several years of improvements beginning in 2005 and continuing to this year.

      • It became a freeway for one thing. That was a HUGE project. Wish they’d kept it going past 120 (Century), though.

        • Rob

          Yes. It’s a freeway between Minneapolis and Century Ave. Between there and the St Croix river, not so much.

  • Mike Worcester

    One aspect of roundabout/rotary/traffic circle driving that does drive (pun intended) me batty is when people use their turn signals in one. I was always told that is not necessary. So I put the question out there to the hive mind on FB and the response was fascinating — half said yes, half said no. One person even told me how their pal got a ticket for not signalling in one. But, I said, state statute specifically exempts that:

    Minnesota state statute 169.19

    Subd. 5.Signal to turn.

    A signal of intention to turn right or left shall be given
    continuously during not less than the last 100 feet traveled by the
    vehicle before turning. A person whose vehicle is exiting a roundabout
    is exempt from this subdivision.

    • Rob

      So, not necessary, but very useful.

      • Mike Worcester

        I do not use a signal in a roundabout for the simple reason it stands to confuse other drivers more than inform them.

        • Jeff C.

          Speaking as a driver, I have no idea how it would be more confusing for me to see your signal than having you turn or change lanes without using one.

          • Mike Worcester

            I’m speaking specifically about signalling in a roundabout. Their design makes it not always easy to see a turn signal and waiting until right upon where you will exit leave very little room to use a signal to indicate your intentions. Which is why I don’t use a signal in a roundabout. That and state statute says I don’t. 🙂

          • Jeff C.

            I knew that you were speaking about signaling in a rotary. An indication of what you are about to do/are doing is always more helpful to other drivers than not giving an indication.

          • Mike Worcester

            Okay. Though my experience in roundabout driving — there is one I drive nearly every day — shows that signals are used sporadically and not well and based on facial and hand gestures definitely confuse the other drivers. Of course that’s all unscientific observation on my part. Again, if anyone asks me, I tell them not to for the reasons I’ve noted above.

          • jodyrakowwaltman

            Add to the mix the fact that you can’t necessarily trust that a driver even knows their turn signal is on (seriously, how do people drive for MILES without noticing that incessant clicking noise!?)… I’m not going to enter a roundabout in front of you just because you’ve got your blinker on. I won’t trust that you’re actually exiting the roundabout until I see it happening… at which point your blinker is redundant at best.

          • // seriously, how do people drive for MILES without noticing that incessant clicking noise!?

            NOTHING, except getting out of the bed every morning, makes me feel older than looking down and seeing the turn signal on.

            The answer to your question is that you’re not going to believe how quickly your hearing goes in the higher frequencies until you look at your dashboard one day and there you are.

            Fortunately, there’s no need to use a signal in a roundabout unless you’re in the wrong lane, and actually doing so if you’re in the correct lane will only increase the chance of an accident.

            Come to the Radio Drive/Bailey Road roundabout and I’ll be happy to show you how.

          • tboom

            My 2007 Subaru Outback must “click” at a single high frequency, I haven’t heard my signal for 10 1/2 years. The dashboard indicators are none too prominent either.

            OTOH, my work truck must have hidden high-fidelity speakers and use the entire sound spectrum.

        • Rob

          As you wish.

    • Zachary

      I use mine as a courtesy to driver waiting in the entrance. If they can see that I am exiting, they can begin their merge in. Not necessary, but helpful.
      I do this usually only in smaller, single lane one – I can see how in doubles it gets confusing.

      • It could get confusing in single ones, too, IF you turn your signal on too soon. In the Woodbury example — and that one is fairly typical for the size, maybe a little bit smaller, it would be impossible to use a right turn signal without confusing the drivers waiting to get into the roundabout in the entrace just before the exit you want to take.

        • Zachary

          I flip mine on once I have cleared the last exit before. Again – usually just on single lanes. Doubles, (going straight thru) you have to cut across the oncoming (from the right) so I understand where the confusion can land.

      • Dan

        Then just get rid of these “lanes” altogether!

        • That’s a dead ringer for downtown St. Paul during rush hour since Jackson St. was closed.