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. 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.
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.”