Roundabouts & Traffic Circles

Roundabouts & Traffic Circles

After traveling in the UK, Iceland, many European countries and New Zealand I encountered many more roundabouts that stop signs and electronic traffic signals. After a brief period of confusion, I found them to be quite efficient in several ways. Initially, I noticed that they were more effective in managing the flow of traffic since no one was required to wait at an intersection unless other traffic arrived earlier. I recalled the many times I waited at a red light when no other traffic existed. I noticed that traffic in any direction only was required to come to a full stop infrequently. The requirement to come to a full stop and then go is much less fuel-efficient than otherwise.

The difference between a roundabout and a traffic circle is that a roundabout has only one lane. At many surface street intersections (one lane) it is possible to create a roundabout simply with a six-foot painted circle at the midpoint.

The general consensus among people with whom I have discussed this option is that they are opposed on the grounds that they are dangerous. However, the statistics do not bear that out. My view is that most of us are resistant to change, especially when we do not understand the benefits and are unsure of how they will be able to cope with the change.

While I was concerned at first having to drive on roads with roundabouts, especially when driving on the left side of the road, it only took a few minutes to discover that I only had to yield to another vehicle that had entered an intersection ahead of me. It was that simple. In fact, some intersections had “yield” signs at all four corners.

Upon additional consideration, it occurred to me that infrastructure cost was a significant benefit of roundabouts. Most small roundabouts can be created at a cost of a few thousand dollars while an electronic traffic signal system can cost in excess of $100,000 per intersection while requiring future maintenance and use energy.

When I lived in a small city (of about 60,000) in New Zealand they only had five intersections with electronic signals but had hundreds of roundabouts and traffic circles. I wonder how initiating a program of roundabouts and traffic circles would impact our need for future infrastructure budgets?