Traffic Circles (mini-circles)

Description

A traffic circle in a residential neighborhood in High Point, Washington

Mini-circles are raised circular islands constructed in the center of residential street intersections (generally not intended for use where one or both streets are arterial streets). They reduce vehicle speeds by forcing motorists to maneuver around them. Mini-circles have been found to reduce motor vehicle crashes by an average of 90 percent in Seattle, WA. Drivers making left turns are directed to go on the far side of the circle prior to making the turn. Signs should be installed directing motorists to proceed around the right side of the circle before passing through or making a left turn. Mini-circles are commonly landscaped (bushes, flowers, or grass), most often at locations where the neighborhood has agreed to maintain the plants. In locations where landscaping is not feasible, traffic circles can be enhanced through specific pavement materials.

A cyclist travels through a traffic circle in Naples, Florida

Mini-circles are an intersection improvement as well as a traffic-calming device and can take the place of a signal or four-way stop sign. Many unwarranted four-way stop signs are installed because of the demand for action by the community.

Mini-circles must be properly designed to slow vehicles and benefit pedestrians and bicyclists. Right-turning vehicles are not controlled at an intersection with a mini-circle, potentially putting pedestrians and bicyclists at risk.

Therefore, tight curb radii should complement this treatment to discourage high-speed right-turn maneuvers. The occasional larger vehicle going through an intersection with a traffic circle (e.g., a fire truck or moving van) can be accommodated by creating a mountable curb in the outer portion of the circle.

Purpose

Mini-circles are traffic calming devices used to reduce speeds and manage traffic at intersections where volumes do not warrant a stop sign or a signal.

Considerations

  • Do not make generous allowances for motor vehicles by increasing the turning radii—this compromises pedestrian and bicyclist safety.
  • Larger vehicles that need access to streets (e.g., school buses and fire engines) may need to make left-hand turns in front of the circle.
  • Use yield, not stop, controls.
  • Mini-circle landscaping should not impede the sight distance.
  • Treat a series of intersections along a local street as part of a neighborhood traffic improvement program.

Cost

The cost is approximately $5,000 to $15,000. The cost varies depending on whether the mini-circle is landscaped and/or on an asphalt or concrete street. Mini-circles typically have a service life of 25 years.