KEENE, N.H. (AP) – The new traffic roundabout in Keene replaced a dangerous intersection, and was supposed to make things safer. Five months and 46 traffic crashes later, some drivers are not so sure.

Tuesday afternoon, a three-car crash involving a tractor-trailer on the Route 101-Winchester Street roundabout sent two people to the hospital. It was the worst accident there since the roundabout opened in July.

And since September, nine of the 46 crashes at the busy roundabout involved injuries, according to Keene police Lt. Richard Richards.

When stop lights regulated traffic at the intersection, there were 11 crashes, two involving injuries, from Sept. 1, 2006 to Jan. 30, 2007, according to Richards.

Some Keene residents, like Samm Russell, try to steer clear.

“When there was a light, I used to go through that intersection four times a week,” Russell said Thursday. “I don’t do that now. I avoid it.”

Keene Public Works Director Kurt Blomquist said roundabouts tend to be safer than traditional intersections because the circular flow of traffic forces drivers to slow down.

“Roundabouts statistically have lower levels of severe accidents,” he said. “That’s not necessarily less accidents, just less severe accidents. You don’t have T-bones. You don’t have people rushing to beat the light.”

But the percentages of accidents with injuries at the intersection before and after the Route 101 roundabout were almost identical during the five-month periods a year apart.

There were also more than five times as many crashes.

Blomquist believes speed is to blame.

The speed limit drops from 40 mph to 20 mph as vehicles in two lanes approach the Route 101 roundabout from the east or west.

Driver Cary Sevene of Spofford said people simply are not yielding to traffic that has the right of way.

“I think that roundabout at Route 101 is the most dangerous roundabout in Keene,” said Sevene, who drives through the intersection everyday on her way to work. “People just don’t yield when they should. I’ve seen people almost get hit through there.”

The relatively new two-lane roundabout is also perplexing to some drivers, Blomquist said.

“You’re going to have people who have difficulty adjusting to pattern changes,” he said. “I’m still amazed. I keep hearing about people going the wrong way on the roundabout. It’s just hard for me to imagine how even the most inattentive driver can make that mistake.”

Drivers in other towns haven’t seemed to have problems adjusting to their circular traffic patterns.

There hasn’t been a single accident at a roundabout that opened in Meredith last May, said Police Chief Kevin Morrow.

“No accidents. Not one,” he said. “I’m surprised (about Keene). Then again, the volume of traffic here is much less. We have a busy motorcycle week, but there were no issues other than people swearing at each other.”

In Goffstown, there have been three crashes with one injury involving a bicyclist since the town’s heavily traveled roundabout was finished a year ago, Police Chief Michael French said.

“This is the major road from the center of Goffstown to the city of Manchester and Route 293,” French said. “It sees a lot of traffic.”

Two roundabouts were built in Hanover in 2006 on Route 10, with no accidents.

“No accidents reported at all,” Police Chief Nicholas Giaccone said. “It’s almost like people coming to a four-way or three-way stop sign. They know that the people inside the circle have the right-of-way. They know if someone is coming from the left, whether it’s in the circle or on the adjacent street, they know to yield.”

Not true in Keene, Russell said. She calls the inner circle of the Route 101 roundabout the “clown lane.”

“If people would just slow down when they go into (the roundabout) and yield, it would be safer,” she said. “Maybe the city should teach a course on roundabouts.”

Information from: The Keene Sentinel,

AP-ES-02-01-08 1336EST

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