A Driving Instructor's Blog

Almost two years ago, I wrote about North-American Roundabouts, and how they were becoming more popular to the extent that websites about them were appearing. Even back then, some American states were whingeing that they were a “European import” and that they increased accidents. The Americans appear to be even worse than the Brits when it comes to grabbing the wrong end of the snake.

Just because people are stupid doesn’t mean that it is wrong to expect them to do things – even new things – that are better and safer for everyone overall. And using roundabouts is a good example, since they’re  are designed to improve traffic flow in congested areas. But how do you prove that they actually work to people – in this case, an entire nation – who are frightened of them?

Whenever I’m doing the first roundabouts lesson with a pupil I always explain how and why roundabouts keep traffic flowing, whereas simple crossroads (light-controlled or otherwise) don’t. I just explain logically – and it’s enough – but given the Americans’ preference for rigid and inflexible rules (that was the Wall Street Journal’s conclusion in that previous article), more proof is obviously needed for them.

There’s a TV show called Mythbusters (if you search this site you’ll find several stories involving it). They go into detail in proving or disproving common beliefs about everyday things – anything from things which happen in action movies to normal things like traffic accidents. According to this recent news story they have put roundabouts to the test under the premise that they are either “a curse or cure for congested intersections” (in the words of the news item I’ve linked to). The story is brand new, so I would imagine it’ll be a little while before we see the show over here.

Apparently, they have compared a “4-stop intersection” (so, more or less equivalent to a light-controlled junction in UK-speak) with a roundabout. The found that the light-controlled junction averaged 385 vehicles over a 15-minute period compared to 460 vehicles for the roundabout over a similar period. Or in other words, the roundabout allowed 20% more traffic through. The news article, in The Detroit News, concludes:

There are a lot of drivers out there who fear and loathe roundabouts, mainly because they don’t understand them…

…Roundabouts eliminate T-bone and front end crashes. Any crash that does occur is minor because speeds inside roundabouts are usually limited to 25 mph and both vehicles are traveling in the same direction.

The story finishes by referring to how many roundabouts there are in certain cities – they count them in the low tens – and advises that more are coming.

So, roundabouts do improve traffic flow. Someone from America should come over and explain that to the idiots responsible for the “improvements” to Nottingham’s Ring Road, and the Tramicide in Clifton. They’re taking roundabouts out and replacing them with… yep, you guessed it. Traffic lights.

Nottingham City Council is committed to making life as hard as possible for the motorist, while simultaneously introducing absolutely anything that the spotty faced interns from the year’s graduate intake thinks might benefit pedestrians. I note from the Aspley Lane work that although the road is down to one lane (with huge tailbacks) this weekend, they’ve done the important stuff already and installed tactile paving for the dozens of crossings that the junction will now include (it had one before), and that’s even before they’ve built the pavements! And it’s all for the school 200 metres down the road, and for the nearby zoo (sorry, I mean the Broxtowe Estate), not for the tens of thousands of motorists who travel along the Ring Road each day on important business.

You can watch the Mythbusters segment here.

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