Roundabouts have been around for about 250 years. An early version is Paris’ Place D’Etoile (renamed Place Charles de Gaulle) built in 1777 where up to ten lanes of traffic encircle the Arc de Triomphe. Of course, it was originally for horse-drawn carriages and it wasn’t until the 1960s that the modern roundabout designed for vehicles became commonplace.
There are several versions of what is also called the circular or unsignalized intersection, including the mini roundabout which has single lanes entering and exiting the circle and a small central island which can be partially traversed. This type is most common in light traffic, rural areas.
Multi-lane roundabouts are the most common version with the inside lane used to make right turns and through moves while the outside lane is used to make exit turns. A version of this is the turbo roundabout where road users are forced to choose a lane before entering in order to discourage lane changes once in it. There are also huge versions of roundabouts, the largest in diameter being in Putrajaya, Malaysia, spanning 3.5 km. Then there is the Swindon Magic Roundabout which has five smaller clockwise satellite roundabouts while vehicles travel counter-clockwise around the inner circle . Just crossing it must feel like a horizontal roller coaster.
But the objective is the same for everyone: to facilitate the uninterrupted flow of traffic at intersections. While Britain pioneered modern roundabout design, the real driving force behind their deployment was the adoption of the ‘priority’ or ‘yield-to-entry’ rule. Once the driver understands this, he or she behaves “according to the theory of acceptance of deviations; drivers waiting to enter the main stream should wait until a suitable space is found and enter when it is safe to do so. The minimum deviation an average minor motion driver would accept is called the critical deviation. (Erlend Aakrea, Arvid Aakrea 2017)
It requires some skill in averaging the distance and speed of the cars in the circle, and for novice drivers it can be daunting but is quickly learned. One of the countries that currently has the most roundabouts is France with over 30,000. On the other hand, America, with only 4,800 in 2015, has been slow to adopt them and one wonders if There’s something in the American driver’s psyche that’s opposed to the concept.
This despite the considerable advantages, and probably the most important of them is that of security. A 2000 University of Kansas study showed “39% fewer vehicle collisions, 76% fewer fatalities and 90% fewer serious injuries” compared to traditional intersections which are still prone to drivers ignore traffic lights/stop signs or even signal malfunctions.
Also, there are so many chances of crashing badly and heading towards such intersections while on roundabouts the vehicles are all going in the same general direction. Roundabouts also impose speed limits out of sheer physics since you have to navigate them at a limited speed or else experience the effects of centrifugal force.
As for the flow of traffic, everyone can appreciate that the roundabout on the Kitty Seawall has had a marked beneficial effect compared to the format of the previous intersection. It is encouraging to see the new government building on the coalition initiative and we look forward to the completion of the Mandela Avenue roundabout. There may be other intersections suitable to accommodate mini roundabouts in central Georgetown.
Finally, there is aesthetics, since the central island offers the possibility of embellishment. In this regard, Timehri Roundabout is a delightful welcome to visitors with its trees and flowers. If only the rest of the trip along the eastern shore was just as enjoyable. On that note, sad to see the median paving on the east coast highway when flowers would have been a better idea. We are now an oil producing nation and we can afford and deserve such niceties.
Roundabouts actually help cultivate better road manners. While some of us like to drive aggressively and selfishly – “big and mean” – elsewhere, at the roundabout, we are forced to be momentarily more considerate.
However, they have some drawbacks, including the fact that they take up a lot of space. That’s why you see less of them in high-density cities. In Manhattan’s case, the grid system (like Georgetown), which was devised in 1811 in order to commodify island real estate into standard blocks, excluded roundabouts, with the exception of Columbus Circle.
The other problem is that in times of very heavy traffic, back-ups on entry roads occur when the circle becomes so congested that the critical gap shrinks to a level with which drivers are not attuned. easy. However, even here most drivers trying to enter the circle simply lower their comfort factor while drivers already in the circle are regularly seen to greet cars trying to enter.
But perhaps there is a deeper meaning to the roundabout worth exploring. Traffic lights order you to “Stop” or “Go” depending on the technology and the traffic authorities of the country. You wait, you watch, you fiddle with your radio, you glance at the numbers rolling in and then if it’s Guyana you listen to the pre-green horn of the car behind you, a friendly warning that ‘It’s time to go. Traffic lights are symbols of authoritarianism and objects of resentment.
On the contrary, a roundabout is this common space where courtesy and prudence agree (do not collide). When they work well, they are harmonies in motion. Their very shape is conducive to driving: a circle is easily understood by all motorists and we therefore navigate them intuitively. The “yield-to-entry rule” that governs them is also easy to learn, as can be seen in French Guiana where the roundabout is a relatively new infrastructure but which imposed itself quite naturally. They don’t need police to direct traffic, nor lights to maintain. You simply build them and we drivers do the rest.
Just as public parks encourage the idea of common spaces and equal access for all citizens, the roundabout affirms the belief that humans do not always need to be told what to do and that we are basically a cooperative species. Something to ponder the next time you enter one.