New Niskayuna roundabout opening Saturday

The one-lane roundabout at Aqueduct and Balltown roads in Niskayuna is near completion Friday, September 16, 2016. Photo by Peter R. BarberThe one-lane roundabout at Aqueduct and Balltown roads in Niskayuna is near completion Friday, September 16, 2016. Photo by Peter R. Barber

Indiana Nash
Gazette Reporter

NISKAYUNA — Joyce Thrane, of Aqueduct Road, won’t be taking her normal route home anytime soon.

With a roundabout scheduled to open at the intersection of Aqueduct and Route 146 sometime today, Thrane believes she’s in for a roadway headache.

“I hate them; I won’t be taking it,” she said.

Thrane is not alone in her loathing of the circular intersections that are increasingly replacing stop signs and traffic lights across the state.

Bryan Viggiani, spokesman with the state Department of Transportation, said Friday the area’s newest roundabout is on schedule to open today, as long as there are no rain events to keep crews from painting lines on the road this morning.

If the mere thought of navigating another roundabout leaves the minds of Capital Region drivers spinning, here’s a simple rule to remember: Yield to those going ’round. An empty roundabout is a green light; a full roundabout is a red light.

“Those in the roundabout always have right of way,” said state police trooper Mark Cepiel.

Though roundabouts are included in the New York state driver’s manual (which is usually given to new drivers who receive their learner’s permit), they haven’t been included on the state driver’s test.

“While DMV does not specifically require navigating roundabouts on road tests because they are not present in every road test area, if a roundabout happens to be in a road test area, an applicant may be evaluated when going through one,” said Casey McNulty, a Department of Motor Vehicles spokeswoman.

In the greater Capital Region — Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Washington, Warren, Greene and Essex counties — there are 42 roundabouts, according to the DOT.

The first of those to open was in Latham in 2002, and since then, they’ve been cropping up everywhere.

Northway Exit 12 is an extreme example; there are five in a row along Route 67 there. If taken too quickly, they’ve been known to leave drivers (and passengers) feeling carsick.

Malta has 17 roundabouts. When they were first built, starting in 2006, plenty of townspeople complained of getting dizzy driving in circles on their daily commutes.

“There’s a lot of divided opinions on these roundabouts,” Malta Supervisor Vincent DeLucia said. “People either love them or they hate them. The whole intent is to move larger-volume traffic through easily. But some folks avoid them like the plague.”

Yet, there are upsides to the proliferation of roundabouts.

According to the DOT, there are 32 points of possible vehicle-to-vehicle accidents at traditional four-way traffic stops. In a roundabout, there are only eight.

“There does appear to be more fender benders on roundabouts, but there are far less serious accidents because people are going slower,” DeLucia said.

They also cut down on delays, and Niskayuna motorists have had more than enough of those over the summer.

Those traveling from Aqueduct Road to Route 146 — especially around the 5 p.m. rush hour — have experienced long waits just to get to the intersection. The line of cars is often backed up a mile or so down Aqueduct Road.

Goodbye red light

Bud Halsey, who has owned and operated Boat House on Aqueduct Road for 36 years, said he’s looking forward to the new roundabout’s opening.

“It eliminates the three-minute red light, at least,” he said.

Construction of the new Rexford Bridge has exacerbated delays in the area, but the roundabout is expected to result in a smoother flow of traffic, once drivers get used to it.

According to Walt Bullis, of the Gateway Driving Center of Scotia, roundabouts can be difficult to navigate, especially for new drivers, for a few reasons.

“The thing that seems to confuse most drivers is who has the right of way and how do you determine that,” Bullis said.

Any motorist already in the circle has the right of way, and those entering the circle need only to make sure that they won’t be colliding with another vehicle.

“There is also recognizing whether it is a two-lane or one-lane circle,” Bullis said.

Until December 2017, motorists using the new roundabout next to the Rexford Bridge will only have to conquer one lane. But when bridge construction is over, the roundabout will be morphing into two lanes.

Bullis recommends drivers get familiar with roundabouts through usage.

“Read all signs, and move cautiously. Practicing them helps,” Bullis said.

While drivers will initially be thrown for a loop in their commutes across the Rexford Bridge, it will pass, said Viggiani, with the DOT.

“There may be some delays initially at the new roundabout at the Rexford Bridge, particularly at rush hour, as folks get used to seeing a roundabout there,” he cautioned.