The humble roundabout, the intersection of choice for all of Europe, is making an appearance in the USA. After more than a century of motoring, could it be that Americans are finally realizing that there could be a better way? Virtually all intersections in the States are controlled by either a 2-way stop sign, a 4-way stop sign, or traffic lights. Given the sprawling urbanisation of the country and the grid system formality, perhaps its easy to see why a more free-wheeling system like the roundabout has never taken off until now.
Why is the situation changing? The green movement is probably the principal driver. Since drivers aren’t obliged to stop, there is a terrific amount of petrol saved compared to a 4-way which requires all cars to waste energy coming to a full stop before starting again. When compared to traffic lights, another pro-environment aspect of roundabouts is the fact that they don’t require electricity to operate. Traffic lights not only consume a considerable wattage (although many have now been converted to LEDs), but they also have a significant maintenance component. A third environmental component might be that many European roundabouts are literally green, comprised of grass, bushes, and flowers. They can be an oasis of nature in the city.
A couple of other significant factors in favour of the roundabout…
a) they are statistically much safer than traffic lights. Why? Well, it’s almost impossible to have a head-on accident and their design forces drivers to slow down. Any accident is more likely to be tangential.
b) throughput is much higher than either 4-ways or traffic lights.
One American, the mayor of Carmel, Indiana, has become a roundabout crusader. His passion for them was sparked after an experience as an exchange student in England. Now, Carmel has more than 70 roundabouts!