You Want a Revolution

I got a nice mention in a piece in this week’s Time on roundabouts:

“Carmel, Ind., is driving in circles. Since 2001, the Indianapolis suburb has built 50 roundabouts, those circular alternatives to street intersections that have become a transit fixture in much of the rest of the world. Because roundabouts force cars to travel through a crossroads in a slower but more free-flowing manner–unlike traffic circles, roundabouts have no stop signals–in seven years, Carmel has seen a 78% drop in accidents involving injuries, not to mention a savings of some 24,000 gal. of gas per year per roundabout because of less car idling. “As our population densities become more like Europe’s,” says Mayor Jim Brainard, who received a climate-protection award this year from the U.S. Conference of Mayors, “roundabouts will become more popular.”

About 1,000 roundabouts have been built in 25 states, and research bears out the benefits to states like Kansas, where the new design has produced a 65% average drop in vehicular delays, according to a recent Kansas State University study. Most roundabouts are also more aesthetically pleasing and cost much less to construct than stoplight intersections. The problem is teaching Americans how to navigate them. (Folks, cars entering a roundabout yield to those already in it.) But the heightened anxiety people feel in roundabouts makes them drive more carefully and remember that intersections are dangerous places. And as Tom Vanderbilt notes in this summer’s best seller Traffic, “The system that makes us more aware of this is actually the safer one.”

This entry was posted on Saturday, September 6th, 2008 at 12:23 pm and is filed under Book News, Drivers, Traffic Engineering. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

7 Responses to “You Want a Revolution”

  1. secretivek Says:

    Okay, Americans feel heightened anxiety in roundabouts because they’re rare, they’re new, they don’t know what to do. What happens when they become commonplace, as in Europe?

    I certainly know that while I was tentative driving on roundabout in the UK and France at first, after only a few days, I was driving quite recklessly, testing the limits of the (rental) car’s traction precisely because I didn’t need to stop and had the right of way once I was in.

  2. Daniel Paquette Says:

    How about pedestrians and bicycles? I’m not sure that every car will stop at the lines for pedestrians and the bicycles. But for the rest, I think that this is better than lights in the most cases and I think that lights can be very dangerous for pedestrans and bicycles when cars are turning, especialy those who turned right on the red.

  3. Vagabondblogger Says:

    I live in Cairo, Egypt most of the year, and have lived overseas for about 11 years on & off. Pedestrians are on their own in roundabouts – corner to corner (almost anywhere in the Middle East & Caucuses). A direct cut through is almost impossible.

    Cairenes are much different than other drivers, but roundabout rules are rules. We have one roundabout near us up in Agawam, Mass. It’s an oddity. Navigating through it is almost as bad as driving in Cairo – no right of way, no semblance of traffic rules – I cringe every time I go through it.

  4. Charlie D. Says:

    One important thing to note is that roundabouts are different than the more commonplace rotaries seen in the US. Roundabout are designed to be smaller with tighter corners to force traffic to go slow. This allows for easier (and safer) merging. I grew up in Agawam, Mass, and can attest that the rotary Vagabondblogger references is quite scary. It is large, wide, and the traffic goes FAST!

  5. Silke Says:

    I live in Boston. During my daily commute I go thru 4 rotaries – each way. I grew up in Germany, have family in Ireland and visited France many times – all these countries have plenty of rotaries. I have seen rotaries in Ireland on the motorways that are just as big as the big ones here in Mass.

    I have seen the following mistakes that Boston drivers make in rotaries:
    o They drive the wrong way (I could not believe this actually happens until I saw it with my own eye just 2 days ago in a busy rotary during my morning commute.)
    o They leave the rotary from one of the inner lanes – this is unheard of in France – I see this all the time in the Boston area. Drivers seem to confuse “having the right of way over entering traffic once they are in the rotary” with “there are no rules once you are in”.

    I don’t believe that the problem with rotaries is their size – it is drivers’ education – or a lack thereof.
    When I got my driver’s license in Germany (seems like it’s been ages) the written exam took about 1 hour and consisted of 6 pages of questions. In preparation for the exams I had to go to driving school (I think I took about 20 lessons. There is a minimum number of lessons you had to take back then. They covered driving on highways, country roads, driving at night or in bad weather, etc. In Germany it is unthinkable that your parents teach you how to drive, like I have seen many times here in the US.) The actual driving exam took 30 minutes. When I got my US driver’s license the written exam took less then 10 minutes and the actual driving exam took another 10 minutes (max).

    Considering all this, maybe if drivers in the US were just taught properly on how to drive in a rotary, things might work better …
    … or maybe I am just too naive …

  6. Donald Baxter, Iowa City, Iowa Says:

    I, too, am concerned with how pedestrians and cyclists navigate roundabouts. I feel like they only work when drivers approach them and an appropriate speed and when in them drive at an appropriate speed–that gives pedestrians and cyclists a fighting chance. Also, they don’t seem to work all that well in intense traffic situations. Washington, DC, resorted to signalizing most of their RBs years ago (I worked for JHK & Associates, the engineering firm that developed the algorithms for Dupont Circle’s timing as a test for re-signalization of the others).

    It seems that until drivers are willing to develop some major change in their emotional response to the act of driving that roundabouts won’t be such a great response at least for traffic in mixed areas involving cars, bikes and pedestrians.

  7. Jan, Breda, Netherlands Says:

    In the Netherlands, it is quite common for cyclists and pedestrians to have their own, separate, infrastructure at roundabouts. Within city limits, cyclists usually have right of way when crossing the roads leading to and from the roundabout.


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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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