Roundabouts Are Better

I hate waiting at traffic lights.

There’s a solution: traffic circles, or roundabouts.

Traffic circles terrified me when I first confronted them in Europe. A movie, “National Lampoon’s European Vacation,” captured my experience when it portrayed Chevy Chase driving in London, unable to exit a rotary all day.

Besides being hard to navigate, I also assumed roundabouts cause problems, but a Freakanomics podcast woke me to their advantages. Roundabouts are a reason Britain’s rate of traffic deaths is less than half the U.S.’s.

“We’ve converted almost all of our traffic lights to roundabouts because we save lives,” says the mayor of Carmel, Indiana, Jim Brainard. His little town now has 133 roundabouts.

A University of Wisconsin-Madison study confirmed that roundabouts save lives. Roundabouts increased crashes a bit, but deaths and injuries dropped by 38%.

It’s because of the angle of the cars, says Brainard. “Instead of a T-bone, you got a sideswipe.”

Roundabouts also slow cars down a little, giving drivers more time to react.

“That makes it seem like it’ll take longer for cars to get through intersections,” I say to Brainard.

“It really doesn’t,” he responds. “A roundabout moves 50% more traffic than a traffic light.”

More than a four-way stop sign intersection, too, according to a test ran by the TV show “Mythbusters.’

Roundabouts are also better for the environment. “You never come to a complete stop,” Brainard points out. “Tremendous amounts of fuel are saved.”

Indianapolis realtor Jason Compton says roundabouts even increase the value of homes “because they just flat out look better (by adding) more green space.”

Sometimes communities put artwork in the middle.

Bottom line: Roundabouts are safer, cost less, move more traffic and are better for the environment.

Yet, most Americans still say, “I don’t want these things.” I tell Brainard. “They’re confusing. I’m more likely to have an accident!”

“Well, it takes public education,” he responds. “Chevy Chase didn’t do us any favors.”

Brainard points out that Chase was stuck in a large rotary, not a roundabout. Some traffic circles and rotaries have many lanes. The one by Paris’ Arc De Triomphe connects 12 roads!

“Those are dangerous,” says Brainard. “That’s not what we’re building. Modern roundabouts are small; the smaller they are, the safer they become. They’re very different.”

Europe learned that lesson. European countries are building lots of small roundabouts.

“America is way behind,” I tell Brainard.

“America is catching up,” he replies. “When I started, we probably had under a couple of hundred in the United States. Today, we’re pushing five or six thousand.”

That’s progress.

Still, his little town, with just 97,000 residents, has 2% of all the roundabouts in America.

Image by Greg Reese from Pixabay

10 thoughts on “Roundabouts Are Better

  1. The little town of Trenton, Ohio is becoming a town of roundabouts. I have not heard of a single, two car, accident ever in the roundabouts. There was one goofball who tried to “straighten” the curve but failed in the process. Roundabouts take some getting used to. However, once you get used to them, they are the way to go!

  2. Nice, but reality is roundabouts breed sign farms. I just counted 34 signes in Mayor Brainards Carmel. Green doesnt count as ign design is unintended.

  3. I first encountered roundabouts in New Jersey. At first I thought they were confusing, but found out as I used them more that they were really a time saver.

  4. Our town has about 10,000 people and we have 4 round abouts. On our highway 89 they have 8 within a 30 mile stretch. Honestly I didn’t care for them, but after a while you realize they are a lot better than stop lights. I live in Chino Valley Az. We do have some people who can’t figure out not to jump them others who can’t figure out what a yield sign means, and those who forgot all vehicles come with blinkers. But all in all they work

  5. When I last was in Europe, many years ago, the rules for entering a roundabout were the opposite of those here in the USA. In Europe, traffic already in the circle had to give way to anyone entering it. Here in the US, traffic already in the circle has the right of way, and those entering the circle have to yield. Is it still the opposite in Europe?

    1. Wrong. The rule in Europe is the one on the roundabout has priority. I have never known the opposite

  6. Ditto. Was real wary at first, when a couple roundabouts were completed in Anchorage, Alaska. Even had two accidents (people ran into me as I was doing the 15 mph speed limit). Nice part is that I can still finagle a set (doubles) of 45’ trailers through both. Now they built a roundabout in Fairbanks, AK. If everyone “plays nice”, it works wonderfully. 😊🙏🏼👍

  7. We have a main road that is getting a roundabout installed. The main road is heavily traveled in One Direction in the morning and in the other in the evening. The two cross roads have light traffic. I feel that the roundabout is going to slow down the traffic to the point of a back up in each of the main directions in the morning rush and the PM rush does not giving the opposite to Roads any chance to move in. The way it runs right now is the traffic flows openly and does create spaces when people are making turns prior to entering that intersection allowing traffic to make their left and right turns from the lighter travels roads.Time will tell but I don’t think it’s a good move

  8. Even the military is getting into roundabouts, especially here in Camp Humphries. Once, therein it saves on money for the maintenance of the traffic lights and the manpower that will be used on occasion for traffic control.

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