by Joanna Metheny
Every few months it seems the topic of roundabouts here in Ripon creates a bit of a heated conversation among residents. Debate is waged over how to properly navigate them, why they are there in the first place, and just what is up with the stop signs at the roundabout at River and N. Ripon Roads? With many thanks to Ripon Police Chief Ed Ormonde for his indispensable information, we hope to shed some light on the roundabout confusion.
Back in 2006, there was a statewide push to install roundabouts in communities to help facilitate the flow of traffic and provide an alternative to 4-way stops. At this point, the city of Ripon installed the town’s 4 largest roundabouts to-date: River Road and N. Ripon Road, Fulton and Colony, the Wilma overpass clock tower one, and a smaller one downtown on Second St. During the construction phase alone, the roundabout at River and Ripon Roads was the site of 7 collisions. All of these collisions were single vehicle accidents, and all due to drivers simply not seeing the roundabout. Cars hit the roundabout curbing, signage, and plantings. At the time, it was the single most dangerous intersection in town. In 2006 the area was very remote, and with very little lighting made for low visibility, especially when travelling north or westbound.
In order to reduce the number of collisions occurring at this roundabout, in 2008 the city of Ripon installed the first stop signs. While the number of accidents did decrease, there were still a few each year, and in 2011, it was decided to upgrade to lighted stop signs to provide an additional layer of safety. The extra lighting allows drivers to see the obstacle earlier and have enough time to appropriately adjust their driving to successfully navigate the roundabout.
Today, that intersection sees only one or two accidents each year. The total number of collisions since its installation is 25, and with 7 of those occurring in the first year alone, the addition of lighted stop signs has drastically increased the roundabout’s safety. All but one of the 25 collisions involved single vehicles, with 10 minor injuries, 4 major, and one motorcycle fatality. A majority of the cases involved some level of intoxication, and in the case of the motorcyclist, the driver was under the influence and travelling at speeds in excess of 100 mph.
There has been some discussion amongst city officials about better centering this roundabout, or even removing it entirely at some point in the distant future. Currently the land to the northeast of the intersection is owned by the county, and any major changes to the roundabout would require not only county approval, but also significant contributions. Eventually, the land will likely be annexed to the city, at which point the roundabout could be moved or removed, but there are currently no definitive plans or timeline for this.
All of Ripon’s roundabouts are single lane roundabouts. The Wilma clock tower roundabout briefly operated as a two lane roundabout, but there was so much confusion as to how to navigate it, and so many collisions, that the second lane was removed to create the single lane that we see today. The raised brick areas in the middle of several of the roundabouts serve as truck aprons, and are essentially extensions of the roadway to allow a bit of extra wiggle room for larger vehicles to safely navigate the roundabout. So while technically the roundabouts are one lane only and drivers should use the asphalt area, Chief Ormonde said that due to some gray area in the vehicle code, it is also technically legal to drive on the asphalt, on the brick, or even straddling them. He stressed the importance of safety, and that drivers should heed suggested speed limit signs at roundabouts, but recognize that the obstacle may not always be safe to traverse at that speed. Vehicles already in the roundabout always have the right of way over vehicles entering the roundabout, and common courtesy to other drivers suggests one use the car’s turn signal upon exiting the roundabout. One clearly defined maneuver that is absolutely illegal, is passing another vehicle also in the roundabout.
About the author: For nearly a decade, Joanna Metheny has been a freelance writer specialized in the coverage of local topics and community interest stories. A Central Valley transplant and Bay Area native, Joanna permanently relocated to Ripon and hasn’t looked back once. She loves the city’s proud agricultural history and small town feel. Joanna enjoys spending her time in the community, tending her garden, and discovering local secrets along Ripon’s backroads.