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Are Roundabouts a Good or Bad Addition to US Cities?

Has the time of traffic lights come to an end?

By:  |  April 13, 2022  |    757 Words
GettyImages-1271824721 Roundabout

(Photo by Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images)

In the United States, people drive on the right-hand side of the road – but did you know that in some places, like Britain, people drive on the left? That’s not the only difference in how roads work around the world. Roundabouts, also known as traffic circles, are common in countries like the UK, France, and Australia, but they are a new concept in the US.

The state of Indiana currently has the most roundabouts in America, but other states are starting to use them. There are some benefits to replacing stop signs with traffic circles, but the switch is still confusing to some. Are the benefits enough for Americans to welcome this form of roadway, or is the change just too complicated?

Going in Circles

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A roundabout in Idaho (Photo by: Don and Melinda Crawford/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

A roundabout is a road intersection without lights or signals, but a circular area that cars can enter and exit. Drivers travel counterclockwise around a center island. Roundabouts aim to keep traffic flowing, since a car doesn’t always need to stop before entering the circular area. Drivers on the left-most side have the right-of-way, so vehicles entering the roundabout should check to see if traffic is coming from the left before entering. After yielding to the left, drivers just follow the circle until they reach the exit they need. If a driver misses their exit, they simply continue around the circle until they come upon their exit again.

Simpler roundabouts have just one lane, but busier areas may contain roundabouts with two or more lanes. In France, there is one with 12 lanes! In a two-lane roundabout, the inner circle is meant for drivers continuing around the center, while the outer lane allows motorists to exit.

Often, signs are posted for drivers approaching the intersection that display how to use the traffic circle correctly.

Benefits of Roundabouts

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A roundabout and overpass in Nantes, France (Photo by Alain LE BOT/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

There are several positive reasons to switch from traffic lights to traffic circles. The first is that they save lives. Deadly intersection car crashes in Indiana have gone down by 90% since roundabouts became common. Even accidents in traffic circles are typically less severe than those at traffic lights due to the slower speeds and less cars driving in the area at the same time.

The second reason is the environment. Rather than stopping and sitting idle, vehicles are constantly moving, which reduces pollution released into the air. Not to mention, motorists can save up to 24,000 gallons of gas per year.

The third is traffic congestion. By allowing drivers to move continuously, traffic does not build up as it did before. Finally, there is a decrease in the maintenance and electricity costs needed to keep traffic lights.

Drawbacks of Roundabouts

Confusion due to the newness of roundabouts is likely the biggest drawback in the US. Drivers who are unfamiliar with the concept can be puzzled when using a traffic circle. One solution is to read about how to use a roundabout before attempting one for the first time.

Other concerns include people driving too fast within the circle, motorists who fail to yield before entering, and limited space for those walking or riding bicycles.

Carmel, Indiana – The Roundabout Capital of the US

Carmel, Indiana takes the trophy as the US city with the most traffic circles, with 122 of them in place. Interestingly, Carmel was one of the first cities to install a traffic light in the early 1900s. Now, only about 12 stoplights exist in the whole town.

Carmel’s citizens and travelers were hesitant at first, not knowing exactly how to use a roundabout. However, after some time passed, many of them say they prefer the new junctions. After Carmel’s success, other cities in Indiana’s Hamilton County are trying out the new style of intersection, too.

The mayor of Carmel, Jim Brainard, is the man responsible for building so many traffic circles in the area. He said he discovered the idea on a trip overseas: “I first encountered roundabouts during a graduate-school trip to England. I watched how efficiently traffic flowed through the intersections. Drivers were yielding to traffic and to bikes and pedestrians. No unsightly traffic signals and no long lines or congestion. It made me wonder why the U.S. had not built more roundabouts.”

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