What if someone told you that you could get to work more quickly than you do now and all you have to do is not stop at any red lights, not wait for any turn arrows, and not drive so fast? And not only would your commute be faster, but accidents on that route would decrease, maybe by half!
You’d sign up for that in a heartbeat, right?
What if I told you that getting to work more quickly and the reduction in accidents were both the direct result of the installation of roundabouts along your route?
Not so excited anymore, huh?
It’s true. Americans have some kind of irrational fear of roundabouts. We imagine them as the insane twelve lane circles that we see in old movies that take place in Europe. Driving around, stuck in the inside lane, never able to exit or even change lanes because all the other drivers are blazing by at freeway speeds. But modern roundabouts are much smaller, slower flowing intersections, with islands separating entrances from already moving traffic. The whole thing flows much more easily than our terrifying image (which is usually of something called a traffic circle, and not a roundabout, anyway)
Or maybe we’re afraid of the lack of stoplights. How will we be able to decide where to go without a red, yellow, or green light telling us? Won’t we get confused, and cause more accidents? Apparently not–studies have shown that crashes and injuries are reduced when roundabouts are insalled. In fact, the Federal Highway Administration notes that “Only 10% of all intersections are signalized, but nearly 30% (2,744) of intersection fatalities occurred at signalized intersections,” meaning that traffic lights do not prevent accidents, but rather accidents occur at disproportionately higher rates at signalized intersections.
So maybe it’s the whole slowing down and driving in a circle thing. We think that there’s no way that could make our commute faster, because we’re constantly slowing down for roundabouts. But usually you’re constantly stopping for traffic lights. You’ll wait even longer at a light if someone else is turning left and gets an arrow, too. Actually, an article on Slate mentioned the specific example of Golden, Colorado, “which in 1999 converted a series of four formerly signalized intersections to roundabouts on a wide section of arterial highway that was becoming a major corridor for “big box” retail. While speeds between the intersections fell to an average of 37 mph from 47 mph, the time to travel the entire stretch of road dropped.” See. Your commute will be faster!
Not to mention the savings on gas! The least efficient thing you can do is constantly be stopping and re-accelerating. Acceleration uses more gas than just cruising along at a relatively constant speed, and with a roundabout system, you won’t be stopping, but you will be cruising along. So roundabouts are easy on the wallet, too.
It might take a while for us to get over our issues with roundabouts, but in the name of saving time, money, and lives, let’s please try.