10 Reasons To Like Roundabouts

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If you’ve driven around Northern New England lately, you will likely have noticed the growing use of roundabouts to manage traffic flow. Having made our way through many a roundabout, we have come to really appreciate their benefits. Now wherever we go it is not hard to spot an intersection that couldn’t be improved with a roundabout.

Picture of Dublin New Hampshire Roundabout 2

Roundabout in Dublin, New Hampshire

What is a Roundabout?

According to RoundaboutsUSA:

A modern roundabout has three major characteristics compared to its predecessors, traffic circles and rotaries.

First, the roundabout gives vehicles in the circular travel way the right-of-way. This change on a national basis in England in 1963 marked the start of the modern roundabout era.

Second, roundabouts are small, generally from 70 to 160 feet in diameter compared to 300 to 400 feet and more for traffic circles and rotaries.

Third, roundabouts have a raised entry “splitter” island that slows down or constrains speed just before entry, duplicating in a way the curvature the driver will experience within the roundabout itself.

There are an estimated 25,000 roundabouts in the UK and up to 30,000 roundabouts in France.

Today, the number of modern roundabouts in the USA has jumped to around 2,300 (as of December 2009).

It seems the U.S. has quite a ways to go before the number of roundabouts even approaches that of Great Britain or France.

Ten Reasons to Like Roundabouts

  •  Safety:  Perhaps the worst kind of auto accident is when one car rams another in the side. This often occurs when a car runs a red light into traffic. These types of collisions are virtually impossible in a roundabout. The traffic calming also reduces the chance of an accident.
  • Calms Traffic:  Pop quiz . . . what does a yellow light mean? The correct answer is “slow down,” but real life suggests the answer is “speed up.” Traffic lights can actually accelerate traffic as cars race to “beat the lights.” Do that in a roundabout and you will end up in the center island. As such, roundabouts slow traffic in an orderly fashion.
  • Aesthetics:  Ever look at a busy commercial road and see nothing but miles of overhead lights . . . ugly! Roundabouts do not require lights or overhead power-lines. Additionally, the center island makes for a natural spot for a landmark, such as a water fountain, statue, or simple landscaping.
  • U-Turns:  Ever drive by your destination only to be frustrated by having to find a safe way to turnaround? Roundabouts make every intersection a safe place to do a U-turn by simply driving all the way around it. Since vehicles in the roundabout have the right-of-way, there is no fear of being rammed by someone who didn’t see you.
  • Pedestrian Safety:  Crossing a large intersection can be daunting. Cross too late and you can find yourself with traffic heading straight toward you with another 15 feet of pavement to cross. Roundabouts are designed with “islands” that provide a refuge for pedestrians. At no point in a roundabout does a pedestrian have to cross more than one lane at a time.
  • Less Pollution:  The worst source of auto pollution is created by stop-and-go traffic. By eliminating traffic lights, naturally, you dramatically reduce the amount of stopping. Since entry into a roundabout is controlled by a yield sign, drivers can slowly enter the roundabout without stopping (assuming no other vehicles are in the roundabout).
  • Traffic Capacity:  Studies have proven that roundabouts can handle about 30 percent more traffic than other conventional intersections. While some may criticize roundabouts for being more expensive (versus red lights), they save money in the long-run handling more traffic on the same amount of roads.
  • Flexibility:  Roundabouts come in all shapes and sizes. Ever go through a red light that is not a typical four-way intersection? Hated it! A roundabout can handle awkward intersections and do it gracefully.
  • Lower Maintenance Costs:  Roundabouts are a passive traffic management system that, once built, does not require any ongoing maintenance to enjoy the benefits. A system of traffic lights requires significant maintenance of the lights, timers and overhead infrastructure as well as ongoing electricity costs (which, by the way, don’t work when the power goes out).
  • Boost Property Values:  Thanks to the many benefits mentioned above, property values will be higher.

Examples of Roundabouts in Northern New England

One of the most interesting uses of a roundabout that we have come across is in Dublin, New Hampshire on State Route 101 in the historic village (see picture above). The roundabout is actually more of an oval and serves a number of purposes.

  • First, it calms the traffic on a major arterial road with very tight space constraints without resorting to stop lights.
  • Second, the roundabout allows for easy u-turns as well as providing for easier entry of several disjointed driveways and one off-center street (Church street). A stop light probably would have meant the closure of some of these access points.
  • Third, the roundabout has become a focal point for the village. In fact, the village flies the American flag in the center of the roundabout . . . there is also an historical road maker (“Dublin, New Hampshire”).
  • Fourth, the roundabout has a built-in pedestrian cross-walk allowing for a less stressful crossing of this busy road.
Also, as shown in the Google Map below, the bypass in Gorham, Maine (pdf) is especially notable because it is a new roadway that features 3 roundabouts and without a single stop light. Having traveled this road multiple times, it is nice knowing that you won’t have to come to a stop at a red light and, more often than not, you zip right through the roundabouts.
Are there other roundabouts in Northern New England that you feel are especially interesting or effective?
Picture of The Charles Fantoni Roundabout in Barre Vermont

The Charles Fantoni Roundabout in Barre, Vermont

State Resources on Roundabouts

New Hampshire’s Department of Transportation has the best on-line information on the New Hampshire roundabout program. For instance, the site has a series of “information posters” that are very useful such as:

Maine’s Department of Transportation has limited information on the Maine roundabout program.

We could not find any information on Vermont’s roundabout program . . . although you can see in the picture above a new roundabout built just outside of Barre, Vermont.

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