Off Topic — Roundbout or Circle Feedback (Road Safety)

Not  a current concern, but just some educational feedback from a group I belong to

Roundabout Feedback

Thanks to all who responded to our informal survey about roundabouts in last week’s e-newsletter. We have received close to 200 opinions, most from drivers who are quite experienced with roundabouts, both in the United States and overseas. Responses came from as far away as Australia and China.

While we strive to answer each and every response to our weekly newsletters, the volume over the past week has made that impossible in this case.

Rest assured that we have read every single entry and will publish excerpts from some of the responses in a future e-newsletter or in a feature article in the NMA member newsletter, Driving Freedoms.

There were many informative and, yes, entertaining quotes that are worth sharing.

Our tally shows that 67.7 percent of responders are in favor of roundabouts, 17.8 percent are against them, and 14.5 percent are somewhat ambivalent. There were some very common themes in the messages we received:

Driver Education and Protocol
Most agreed that a significant problem with roundabouts is drivers who are unfamiliar with their proper usage.

Several people pointed to the effectiveness of European roundabouts and, after some rocky first weeks, the effective acclimation of American drivers to roundabouts. Others swear that U.S. drivers don’t have the sophistication of foreign motorists and will never adapt properly.

This is not helped by reports that most U.S. locales give the right of way to vehicles in the circle (strongly preferred by responders), but others give entering traffic the right of way. (Note, MA law gives drivers in the circle priority)

Complicating matters even further are the designs that incorporate either stop signs and/or traffic signals into the roundabout design. This type of hybrid design is confusing and not only negates the traffic flow benefits of the roundabout, it creates more problems than it tries to solve.

Traffic Flow/Design
Some opinions were qualified with, “roundabouts are great for light to medium traffic, but are worse than signalized (or even 4-way stop) intersections if the vehicular flow is too heavy for the circle design.” Car and truck drivers both weighed in about the problems of a semi-tractor or large city bus trying to navigate through roundabouts.

While many responders mentioned concerns about frequent fender-benders, amazingly few noted that they had ever seen accidents in roundabouts.

One benefit noted was that roundabouts eliminate the possibility of the more severe T-bone or head-on accidents (presuming of course that drivers enter the traffic circle properly).

What’s in a Name?
The usage of the term “roundabout” is regional. The other common names used are “rotaries” and “traffic circles” or “circles.” Some reminded us of that rather gently, while others were a bit more forceful.

We are saving excerpts for future publication, but this response caused us Midwesterners to chuckle: “I grew up in New England, where the term “roundabout” is considered an effete Anglophobe affectation.” ?

4 replies on “Off Topic — Roundbout or Circle Feedback (Road Safety)”

  1. I realize that bicycles are very much a minority vehicle, but to the extent that we do “share the road” (which is what I think helps keep us in the tiny minority), I can tell you that the Grove St rotary is fun, and the Concord Ave rotaries (which I have negotiated, in the road, on a bicycle) ARE NOT. Multilane rotaries are not happy-making for bicycles.

    In addition, the Grove St. rotary would be improved if the curbs were not made of sharp-edged materials (in this case, granite). I know that they look lovely, but from a bicycle, what runs through my mind is cut tires, destroyed rims, and compound fractures.

  2. It’s an interesting set of questions. By the way, another consideration in circle design is the balance and rhythm of traffic among the entering sources. If they are reasonably balanced and naturally pulsed, it can work, but if there is steady dominant flow from one source, and the right of way is in the circle, then the side streets can never get in.

    Note the scheduled hearing on the intersection at Rt 2/16. This intersection used to be a rotary and that was a design option reconsidered there in the process leading up to the proposed changes. The problem was the lack of balance among the sources — the jug handle coming up from the station would never clear in a rotary design.

  3. It’s unfortunate that the 2/16 source balance isn’t conducive to a rotary. Since the old Drum Hill Rotary was converted into this mixture of traffic lights, disappearing lanes, and overall confusion, the area has become much more difficult to navigate.

  4. It seems, sometimes, that this is more of a ‘social engineering’ issue than a ‘traffic engineering’ topic. There seems to be a pervasive feeling among traffic planners that Americans just cannot learn to cope with rotaries, all evidence and commentary to the contrary. I cannot imagine why anyone would have wanted to convert a perfectly good auto-route rotary overpass such as drum hill to the monstrosity it has become. It certainly seems like the planners are quite literally asleep at the wheel and their constituencies seem uninvolved enough to let this type of thing happen. Mea-culpa, I took no action when the 2/16 distortion took place and thats in my back-yard.

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