When Albany City Manager Peter Troedsson lived in England for two years as an exchange pilot with the Royal Navy, he grew familiar with roundabouts — a circular intersection where traffic flows in one direction.
“I thought they were the best thing since sliced bread because you don’t have to wait for a traffic signal. The most you have to wait for is an opening in the traffic in the circle,” he said. “It doesn’t use any electricity and it’s usually landscaped in the middle, so it looks nice.”
But people, Troedsson admits, don’t like change and sometimes need to get used to a new idea.
The city of Albany has three roundabouts — North Albany Road and Gibson Hill Road, Knox Butte Road and Timber Ridge, and at Main Street and Salem Avenue — and the city has listed directions on its website on how to navigate them.
Now it has taken to the air for additional help by putting drones on the case.
Chuck Perino, the city's emergency preparedness manager, is a licensed drone operator. He sent a drone up to take photos and video of the city's roundabouts earlier this year.
Perino was pleased with the result: “The picture is cool, it looks like a heart with blood and stuff going through it," he said. "It’s just kind of cool-looking.”
The images have since been added to the city’s roundabout explanation on its website.
“Having an aerial photo of it where you can watch the traffic go through is very helpful,” Troedsson said, noting he wasn’t sure exactly what caused confusion to new roundabout drivers.
Common mistakes drivers should be on the lookout for, according to the city’s roundabout tutorial: It’s important to look to the left when entering a roundabout and use signals when exiting. The tutorial also advises drivers to approach the yield line and enter the roundabout during an adequate gap in circling traffic.
The city’s drone usage, aside from its roundabout photo op, was recently featured in American City and County magazine. The Fire Department has two drones and the city’s Public Works Department has one.
The Fire Department uses its drones to take aerial photos for the city and for search and rescue operations: The drones are equipped with thermal cameras and can be set for the body temperatures of a human being. The drones can also fly at night and are all-weather.
The drones have also been used to documenting progress of projects around the city.
“When the carousel was built, “Perino said, “rather than pay aerial photo company thousands and thousands of dollars, we were able to get photos with the drone and stitch them into existing photos.”
The department has obtained all necessary FAA licensing to operate the drones and is currently adding additional pilots to the city’s team of five.
“We have a pretty evolved program here,” Perino said.