MILWAUKEE — If you were to rank states across the nation by number of roundabouts Wisconsin consistently lands near the top. Right now, if you were to travel the entire dairy state, you'd find more than 500.
The very first roundabout in Wisconsin popped up in 1999 in Howard. Today — Wisconsin boasts 554 roundabouts.
Professor Xiao Qin at the University of Milwaukee conducted the first comprehensive study on roundabouts in the state, focusing on safety.
He is currently the founder and director of the Safe and Smart Traffic Lab at UW Milwaukee and also directs the Institute for Physical Infrastructure and Transportation.
Professor Qin describes roundabouts as superior by design. His research found a significant reduction in serious crashes in more than two-thirds of the places where traditional intersections were replaced by roundabouts.
"One of the key design features of the roundabout is to slow you down, right?" said Professor Qin. "In a roundabout, you're supposed to drive 15-20 miles per hour."
And here's another factor, roundabout traffic only travels in one direction, which prevents head-on crashes. And Professor Qin added that roundabouts are also attractive to engineers because they are flexible.
"It can accommodate a variety of traffic conditions on different scales," he explained. "It can be small, it can be bigger. It can fit traffic with less than 15,000 cars a day or even up to 45,000 cars a day."
An example of a high-volume area like that, Qin said, would be the intersection of Port Washington and Silver Spring near the Bayshore Mall.
When Professor Qin launched his safety study Wisconsin had just 150 roundabouts. That was back in 2010. Years later, roundabouts remain a polarizing topic in Wisconsin.