What if there was a way to reduce fatal traffic accidents by 90% and reduce all traffic accidents by 40%?
What if the same fix also reduced the annual costs associated with managing traffic flow?
And what if the same fix also led to improved traffic flow, in terms of both increased capacity and reduced delays?
And finally, what if this fix also improved the aesthetics of a highway and reduced the negative impact on the environment of auto pollution?
That’s quite an impressive set of benefits.
So what is this simple fix?
The definition of a roundabout, according to Wikipedia, is a type of circular intersection or junction in which road traffic flows almost continuously in one direction around a central island. So-called “modern” roundabouts require entering traffic to give way to traffic already in the circle and optimally observe various design rules to increase safety. Compared to stop signs, traffic signals, and earlier forms of roundabouts, modern roundabouts reduce the likelihood and severity of collisions by reducing traffic speeds and minimizing T-bone and head-on collisions.
I remember driving through a couple traffic circles (which are not the same as a roundabout) in New Jersey a long time ago, and they seemed to be more of a hassle than anything.
Then we went to Ireland for a family vacation in 2001, and while it took a little getting used to driving on the left side of the road, I became a fan of the many roundabouts we came across.
Since then, I’ve felt that roundabouts should replace all intersections. I wasn’t aware of all of the benefits noted above; they just seemed like a more natural way to move traffic.
What triggered this post was a brief news piece on roundabouts on the local news station today. The story mentioned some of the benefits I listed above, so I thought I would look a bit more into the topic.
As it turns out, there is at least one web site completely devoted to roundabouts – RoundaboutsUSA. It was on this site that I found some of the info about roundabouts I included in this post. I also found the article “Why Americans Don’t Understand the Roundabout“, to have some useful info on the subject matter. (Here is one interesting quote from the article: “the roundabout is said to have flourished in Britain because it requires the British virtues of compromise and cooperation. The U.S.’s more aggressive, confrontational culture may explain why the roundabout has not been more widely adopted by Americans.” ouch…
There are also several YouTube videos about roundabouts; I found the one below from the Florida Department of Transportation particularly insightful, since it includes info on roundabouts that involve not only cars but bikes and pedestrians as well.
The modern roundabout, which dates from 1963 in England, finally arrived in the United States in 1990 in Summerlin, a major Las Vegas residential subdivision.
There are an estimated 26,000 roundabouts in the UK and up to 32,000 roundabouts in France, while the number of modern roundabouts in the USA is only 4,800. To me, that means there is plenty of room for more roundabouts.
Here are some more facts about roundabouts from a report by the Federal Highway Administration:
- The average construction cost of roundabouts is estimated at approximately $250,000
- Construction time for roundabouts discussed in the report ranged from six to nine months.
- Benefit/cost analysis that indicated that for every dollar spent, considering the 20-year service life of the roundabouts, there was a return of approximately $13 to be realized through crash reduction.
- The conversion of conventional rural, stop-controlled intersections to modern roundabouts cumulatively reduced total crashes by 69.1 percent, eliminated fatal crashes, and reduced injury crashes by 88.0 percent.
So if there is a bug uptick in infrastructure spending in the coming years, I hope a significant amount is earmarked towards the construction of roundabouts.
While driving and walking through a roundabout may take some time to get used to, it’s hard to argue with the many benefits that roundabouts offer.
And I can’t end a story about roundabouts without including the classic Yes song, Roundabout: