Home > Appreciated Quotes, Engineering Design > Roundabouts Don’t Cause Chaos, People Do

Roundabouts Don’t Cause Chaos, People Do

EDITOR’S NOTE: I continue to post new, general roundabout information at the Michigan Roundabouts page

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Monday’s Quote and Then Some

I’ve said it before: If a driver cannot handle negotiating clearly labeled rights of way at simple, small intersections at low-speed, why are we actually giving them the right to be maneuvering heavy, dangerous vehicles on public streets crowded with other cars, pedestrians, cyclists, etc etc?

~ Tom Vanderbilt, concerning a roundabout controversy in Winnipeg

Vanderbilt, author of the previously cited and highly recommended Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), expresses a perfect response to a common critique of modern roundabouts. The idea that people can’t learn to adapt to a different, but proven, technology would be laughable if it wasn’t so often cited as reason not to do something.

I also appreciate his response to a gentleman’s “it’s a hazard” comment concerning roundabouts.

I’m glad he thinks that! Because intersections are hazardous locations! But what proceeded them — four-way stop-sign controlled intersections — are hardly a panacea, and indeed linked to far more fatal crashes than roundabouts.

Following the links to the video in Winnipeg certainly shows that poorly implemented roundabouts do lead to confusion, but what’s left out of the article is that:

  1. The confusion actually helps to prevent serious crashes
  2. With time, the confusion subsides as people learn to negotiate the intersection.

Everything shown in the video happens at signalized intersections as well, including a motorist without the common sense to yield to a family walking across the road–that type of negotiation, however clumsy, happens everyday at signals.

It takes a brain to drive through a community, with or without roundabouts. A smart community builds a roundabout with an awareness campaign to smooth the transition and assist people in employing their mental and social skills.

Local Roundabout Discussion

Locally, roundabouts are still on the table, but it’s uncertain where they stand on Division St., which was where the most effort has gone towards introducing them to the community. There may be other 1st opportunities being looked at that aren’t so high-profile.

Design, Design, Design

A visualization of a raised offset crosswalk with extra delineation. The link leads to an interactive index of graphics showing various crossing solutions intended to aid blind pedestrians to cross the street at roundabouts and other complex intersections.

I do know that there has been a walking back from the roundabout compromise along Division St. by some in the community. Mainly, the concern that they don’t adequately satisfy the non-motorized accessibility concerns crossing east-west. Admittedly, there is a level of the untested, but I fail to see how a calmer, more predictable corridor complete with enhanced crosswalks at the roundabouts won’t improve conditions. It is still the only elegant compromise we have that attempts to satisfy everyone. We can choose to make people as much as a priority as possible, if we apply some of the leading edge designs.

But, without knowing what will be recommended by staff once roundabouts return to the city commission’s agenda, I prefer not to get too deep into the topic. Needless to say, many of the arguments I’ve continued to hear against modern roundabouts remain anomalies and related to poor design, implementation and poor driver education/consideration. I’m still in favor of putting them into the tool-box.

  1. October 25, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    I appreciate the visualization of the roundabout & crosswalk treatment because it has me in mind of conditions in Western Europe – especially in the north – where traffic engineers and municipalities are serious about infrastructure. So serious that well-designed and well-marked roads and crosswalks stay well-maintained. These localities value – and invest in – carefully considered circulation systems. From the air, the visual effect is profound: one can see how a well-ordered public realm expresses the collective interest in safety.

    Clear markings mean that cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians all know the rules and are encouraged to respect them. Of course, Europeans are known to drive with some zip and pedestrians routinely step off the curb abruptly. Still, the road as a shared space seems to receive much more priority and funding than here in the states, where crosswalks and lane markings fade into obscurity and crash barriers are often poorly maintained. We choose not to invest.

  2. Raymond
    September 8, 2011 at 8:49 pm

    Excellent post, Gary. Paraphrasing what you have noted, the often-cited ‘problems’ with modern roundabouts are in many way their strengths. To the naysayers, this perspective requires that people view streets as a multi-modal shared public space.

    Given the advantages of modern RaBs, even expensive mechanisms to accommodate the blind would be a net benefit vs. most traditional signalized intersection.

  3. Jeff Frost
    September 9, 2011 at 11:09 pm

    I have seen round-a-bouts that work well in the US as well as in Europe. I have seen round-a-bouts that don’t work well in the US and in Europe. Part of the problem is the way some designed and the other part are the people using it. Unfortunately we cannot correct for lack of use of common sense or following the signs.

    I think that round-a-bouts that are designed well will work well in some areas but I don’t think that they will work well in every place.

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