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‘Neighborhood traffic circles’ spin into Somerville

The new traffic calming measures have been met with mixed reviews online. But city officials say they could help save lives.

One of three "neighborhood traffic circles" that were installed in parts of Somerville in recent months.City of Somerville/@SomervilleInfr1

A version of this story first appeared as a column in Camberville & beyond, our free weekly newsletter that contains links to interesting stories and events happening in Cambridge and Somerville. If you’d like to receive it via email every Thursday morning, sign up here!

A few months ago we introduced you to Somerville’s “speed humps,” one of several traffic calming tools officials have deployed across the city to get drivers to slow down, while also trying to eliminate pedestrian and cyclist fatalities and injuries.

Since then, yet another curious method to quell crashes and fast driving habits has emerged, and become a topic of conversation: “Neighborhood Traffic Circles” — or as some people are calling them, “Mini rotaries.”

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We reached out to city officials to learn more about the circular additions to the streets, which started to pop up in one neighborhood in particular in the fall. Here’s an explainer:

What are these tiny road discs?

They’re called “neighborhood traffic circles,” although people have been comparing them to miniature rotaries. But the city says that’s not entirely accurate. While the shape may be similar, “left turns can be taken in front of the circle. You are not required to go right and all the way around like a rotary.”

Where are they?

The circles can be found, right now, at a few locations in East Somerville, said Brad Rawson, Somerville’s director of mobility, an area with “the highest percentages of ‘vulnerable road users’” like students and elderly residents. They were installed at three busy intersections in recent months, after residents voiced concerns about drivers speeding through neighborhoods and ignoring stops signs.

“The community was asking for us to prioritize safe infrastructure here, so in addition to raised crosswalks and speed humps, our staff started researching best practices across the country and they learned about neighborhood traffic circles,” Rawson said.

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What’s the purpose?

The intent is to reduce speeding and improve compliance “at otherwise uncontrolled intersections,” according to the city’s website. They were installed in the fall near schools and senior housing complexes, and now that they’re on the roads, the city is evaluating their effectiveness, Rawson said.

Will they pop up anywhere else?

“If we all — not just our staff, of course — feel these are an effective tool in the right place, then we can imagine utilizing more of them in the future,” Rawson said. “At this time there are no active locations being investigated for more of them, but that could change.”

Not everyone is a fan, apparently.

Rawson acknowledged that there’s been some divisive discussions online about the new additions, with some people confused about how they work.

“Of course we get negative feedback. And we welcome that,” he said.

However, “the majority of our residents are recognizing that our traffic calming tools are working, and as a result we are getting a lot of positive feedback.”

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Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him @steveannear.