School Zone Roundabout

Green Bay, Wisconsin
Source: Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC)


A highway near a school complex contributed to high vehicle speeds and the recommendation to construct two modern roundabouts was met with public skepticism.


Prior to 1999, Bay View Middle School and Forest Glen Elementary School in the Green Bay suburb of Howard, WI were bounded to the south by a county highway that carried vehicles at very high speeds. Since the county highway runs directly in front of the middle school and very close to the elementary school, a 15 mi/h (24 km/h) school zone had been in place for several years. However, the regular posted speed limit was 45 mi/h (72 km/h), and many motorists traveled closer to this speed when children were present and well above it when children were not. For this and other reasons, the county sheriff's department designated the highway as a hazardous area to force the school district to bus kids across the road. In addition, the high school that was to be built on the campus in 2000 was expected to add hundreds of inexperienced drivers to the highway's growing daily traffic load, so the county needed to act quickly.

The county could have accommodated the new traffic by expanding the highway to four lanes, constructing turning lanes and signals at the intersections, and adding several other features that would maintain the high vehicle speeds and virtually guarantee that children would never walk or bike to the schools. But, the Brown County Planning Commission instead made a recommendation that would slow traffic and make the highway safe and accessible for pedestrians and bicyclists of all ages by narrowing the lanes of the highway and installing two modern roundabouts.


An approach to one of the modern roundabouts near the Howard school campus.

In 1998 and 1999, the county planning commission worked with the county highway department and two communities to plan, design, and build Wisconsin's first modern roundabouts at the east and west ends of the school campus. The roundabouts were believed to be the best method to slow drivers in the school zone and enable children to reach the schools safely on foot or by bicycle.

Even when supported by enforcement, the mere identification of a school zone does not guarantee that motorists will travel at or below 15 mi/h (24 km/h) because people tend to drive at speeds that feel comfortable to them. The best method of ensuring that drivers will travel at a lower speed is to design streets that discourage higher speeds and make them feel comfortable when traveling slower. This goal was accomplished by retaining the highway's two lanes, adding bicycle lanes and sidewalks, and constructing two roundabouts to force drivers to travel at low speeds when approaching and traveling through the campus intersections. In addition to lowering vehicle speeds, roundabouts make intersections safer for pedestrians of all ages by minimizing conflicts, eliminating crashes caused by drivers disregarding traffic signals and stop signs, and minimizing pedestrian exposure to traffic by enabling people to cross narrow travel lanes that are separated by a median refuge at each approach.


During the year between the planning commission's recommendation for the roundabouts and the project's completion in the fall of 1999, people protested this locally untested device. Despite years of success throughout the world, some residents were convinced that the roundabouts -- often confused with much larger traffic circles -- would create traffic congestion, cause severe crashes, and lead to the injury or death of the children they were designed to protect. But this resistance began to disappear as they were being built and people had the chance to see that the roundabouts were much smaller, more efficient, and more attractive than they had thought.

Three months after the project was completed, the planning commission found that congestion did not exist at the intersections even though the vast majority of vehicles approaching the roundabouts were traveling at or below 20 mi/h (32 km/h) before reaching the crosswalks throughout the entire day. Increased traffic volume was also accommodated effectively. At one of the roundabout locations, the number of vehicles entering the intersection increased from 5,600 per day in 1998 before the roundabout construction to 10,800 per day in 2001.

Reportable crashes and injuries also decreased significantly when the roundabout was constructed at this intersection. Between 1996 and 1998, the intersection averaged three crashes and five injures per year as a two-way stop. Although the number of entering vehicles increased significantly after the high school opened in August 2000, no crashes were reported at the roundabout between August 1999 and October 2001. Since 2001, the intersection has experienced an average of one minor crash per year, and entering traffic volumes have continued to increase during this period as a result of additional commercial and residential development near the roundabout.

Before long, the planning commission and Howard began receiving letters and calls from the sheriff's department, middle school, school bus company, and others directly affected by the project that expressed how pleased they were with the project's results. In fact, the sheriff's department was so pleased that it removed the highway's hazardous designation in 2000, which enabled students to walk and bike to school instead of being forced to be bused or driven by their parents.

The cost of one roundabout was about $180,000 and the other was slightly less. The costs were shared by Brown County, the Village of Howard, and the Town of Suamico. The success of this project has turned many critics into supporters and has led to the construction of 37 additional roundabouts next to and near elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools throughout the Green Bay Metropolitan Area. Twenty-nine more roundabouts are planned for locations at or outside of school zones. Roundabouts are considered successful because they obligate drivers to drive safely around schools.


Cole Runge, Principal Planner/MPO Director
Brown County Planning Commission
305 East Walnut Street, Room 320
Green Bay, WI 54301
Phone: (920) 448-6480
Fax: (920) 448-4487

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