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Transportation Government United States News

Roundabout Revolution Sweeping US 1173

chrb writes "BBC News reports that U.S. cities are installing more roundabouts than ever before. The first British-style roundabout appeared in the U.S. in 1990, and now some cities — such as Carmel in Indiana, are rapidly replacing intersections with roundabouts. Supporters claim that roundabouts result in increased traffic flow, reductions in both the severity and incidence of accidents, and fuel savings. Critics say that roundabouts are more difficult to navigate for unfamiliar American drivers, lead to higher taxes and accidents, and require everyday acts of spontaneous co-operation and yielding to others — acts that are 'un-American.'" As a driver who's hit all of the continental U.S. states except North Dakota, I dread roundabouts and rotaries for all the near accidents (and at least one actual accident) I've seen them inspire, and have been unhappy to see them spread. Spontaneous driver cooperation doesn't necessarily need the round shape, either.
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Roundabout Revolution Sweeping US

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  • Wow.... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jawtheshark ( 198669 ) * <slashdot@ja w t h e s h a r k . com> on Monday July 04, 2011 @11:17AM (#36652400) Homepage Journal

    require everyday acts of spontaneous co-operation and yielding to others — acts that are 'un-American.'"

    Wow... Just Wow... That's an argument against roundabouts?!? I personally find that one of the most sad statements I've read in a long time.

  • by Kokuyo ( 549451 ) on Monday July 04, 2011 @11:19AM (#36652424) Journal

    Both opinions in TFA are right. The traffic flow, overall, is better but they also lead to many people not really knowing how to behave in them.

    We have a lot of them in Switzerland and their number is growing. I feel we have more roundabouts than normal intersections now. Subjectively, of course. And still many people don't know how to behave.

    Two factors are important: Build them large enough, so traffic flowing in has a chance to anticipate an open spot. And make people aware of how they work. Tell it on the radio, in TV spots and so on.

    In Switzerland, cars in the roundabout have the right of way (interestingly enough, though, if that thing has more than one lane, inner lanes DON'T have right of way, which makes no sense...) and you only signal right when you LEAVE it. OR you signal right if you know you'll be leaving at the next exit.

    It works very well, in most cases and I have yet to hear of accidents in them.

  • Re:Wow.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CrackedButter ( 646746 ) on Monday July 04, 2011 @11:21AM (#36652440) Homepage Journal

    Says a lot about America when 'spontaneous co-operation and yielding to others' is considered un-American. Not sure how being unfamiliar with something is actually a bad thing or a case for an argument, everything is unfamiliar to a person as they progress through life.

    Don't worry though, this generation will die off, just like the generation that didn't understand the Internet, and then the rest of us can carry on with our lives.

  • About time too (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Stormthirst ( 66538 ) on Monday July 04, 2011 @11:22AM (#36652452)

    They are only a problem for people who are unused to them. As with all change, it will take time for people to get used to them.

    If it is aggressive drivers (as previously commented) who are causing accidents, this will push their insurance up and perhaps they will become more cautious. Isn't that the nature of free market economics that the Americans seem so fond of?

  • Higher Taxes? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ajo_arctus ( 1215290 ) on Monday July 04, 2011 @11:22AM (#36652456) Homepage

    I'm British, so maybe I'm biased, but I'm pretty sure that roundabouts do not increase taxes. Seems like an odd claim to make.

    FWIW, roundabouts aren't really that difficult to use. You just drive round them.

  • by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Monday July 04, 2011 @11:23AM (#36652466) Homepage

    Both opinions in TFA are right. The traffic flow, overall, is better but they also lead to many people not really knowing how to behave in them.

    Um, people can learn....right?

    If we never tried anything new because people don't know how to do it yet then we'd still be banging rocks together to make dinner.

  • by Bing Tsher E ( 943915 ) on Monday July 04, 2011 @11:24AM (#36652492) Journal

    Having moved to Indiana from the far more bike-friendly Minnesota, I have come to the conclusion that bikes are considered to be childrens' toys here. It's really sad. This is the land of the spark plug morons, unfortunately.

  • by schwit1 ( 797399 ) on Monday July 04, 2011 @11:27AM (#36652524)

    How do pedestrians get across roads with rotaries? With traffic lights there is a clear system for pedestrian traffic. As I approach a rotary as a driver I am looking for space between traffic to merge into the circle. I am not looking for pedestrians.

  • UnAmerican? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tbannist ( 230135 ) on Monday July 04, 2011 @11:28AM (#36652544)

    It's interesting that cooperation and yielding to others is considered "un-American" by at least some Americans. That simple statements speaks volumes about the dire straights that the United States is in.

    Maybe these traffic circles are a good idea after all. Maybe it will teach more Americans that cooperation is not a synonym for communism. Maybe it will teach them that they can profit from cooperation. Or maybe the ones who refuse to co-operate will slowly be killed off in a never-ending stream of roundabout traffic accidents. Either way, that might be best for the country in the long run...

  • by Ephemeriis ( 315124 ) on Monday July 04, 2011 @11:33AM (#36652644)

    Roundabouts (or rotaries, or traffic circles, as they're known in parts of the U.S.) induce confusion and fear in many drivers

    Just because they're new and different.

    People absolutely freaked out when my town got its first roundabout. Now, a few years later, nobody cares.

    Give it some time and they'll be as commonplace and unremarkable as anything else on the road.

    This article from an insurance periodical suggests that it's aggressive drivers who are making rotaries more dangerous.

    Aggressive drivers make everything more dangerous.

    I like rotaries for two reasons: when there's no traffic, it's nicer than having to stop at an arbitrary red light and wait for a mandatory 2 minutes while the lights cycle. Secondly, if I am not sure whether to turn or not, I can just take another spin around the circle until I see the street sign I'm looking for (assuming there is one, not a given on some of the sign-challenged Northeast roads).

    But I loathe rotaries when there's a lot of traffic. You can sit there for a lot longer than you would at a red light. Plus, some places make a rotary out of a 5-way intersection which can be incredibly confusing. It's a tradeoff, I guess, but overall I'd rather drive in a straight line :)

    Like anything else, you need the right tool for the job.

    Lots of places are hearing about how awesome roundabouts are and are throwing them in everywhere - even where they aren't helpful.

    If you've got a high volume of traffic, you need a larger roundabout. Something with a couple lanes to it, to handle the higher traffic. But that means it needs to take up a larger area. And, in many cases, it's just easier to do a stop light.

    We've got a couple 5-way intersections here in town, and they'd actually be less-confusing with a properly-implemented roundabout. You just have to ensure that there's enough space between intersections that people can enter/exit safely.

  • by SvetBeard ( 922070 ) on Monday July 04, 2011 @11:52AM (#36652948)
    Like any tool, roundabouts have to be used in appropriate situations. I used to work in traffic engineering, and adding roundabouts (or signals and stop sings, for that matter) requires careful study and the meeting of certain criteria (called warrants). Warrants include such things as daily vehicle volume, peak hourly volumes, pedistrian volumes, and delay times. In the right place, roundabouts allow traffic to flow better than a signal and with greater safety. Head-on and t-bone collisions (the two most dangerous types of traffic accidents) are virtually eliminated. The accidents that do happen will be at a lower speed and a gentler angle.

    All of that said, there is always the problem of the unwritten "political" warrant. The mayor wants a stop sign (or signal or roundabout) here, so one is going in even if it is worse for the traffic. Of course, there are also fads to put in roundabouts (or what have you). Some of the roundabouts are going to be unwarranted or conditions will change. Roundabouts work best when applied correctly.
  • Re:Wow.... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Mr. McGibby ( 41471 ) on Monday July 04, 2011 @11:58AM (#36653018) Homepage Journal

    While this sort of "cooperation" can be occasionally useful, I find it generally annoying here in Utah where many folks do the same things. They're think they're being nice by letting folks in, stopping in the middle of traffic, not taking their proper turn at four way stops, and other such nonsense. Well, you're not being nice, you're confusing everyone around you because they don't know what you're going to do next. And it causes accidents. The traffic laws were designed to work without me needing to be able to look at you signalling to me from inside your car. Just follow the laws. If I have to wait, then I wait, but let's not cause an accident.

  • by abhi_beckert ( 785219 ) on Monday July 04, 2011 @12:45PM (#36653558)

    Some roundabouts in australia have traffic lights fitted which only turn on during peak hour.

    Best of both worlds: you never stop under light traffic (most of the day) and the traffic lights keep it flowing as much as possible during peak traffic.

  • Re:rageometer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anne Thwacks ( 531696 ) on Monday July 04, 2011 @01:26PM (#36653914)
    There's a lot of objective data out there on accident rates

    These is masses of data here in the UK, and it all says roundaboutses have fewer accidents than lights, and they are less serious accidents, and pass more traffic with less waiting. It has also been demonstrated that some junctions are safer and faster without any rules. (Mostly where traffic density is very high, and no one can reach 4MPH).

    However, the UK has had roundabouts longer than any of today's drivers have been on the road, and we have a driving test that requires you to negotiate them safely, using your indicators correctly. Its true that some people ignore their training, and some have forgotten.

    As I understand it, the test in America is "Have you got $50?" and does not require any knowledge or skill to pass it. It may be 75 years before Americans can use roundabouts safely. After all, many cannot change gear (or even lane) safely.

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