AUTOMOTIVE INNOVATION AND SUCCESS is not always about high tech. One outstanding example is the common roundabout, saving lives, time and money, and making everyday life easier for millions of people around the world.
Inspired by large, circular junction intersections like the one around Arc de Triomphe in Paris, the first “modern” roundabout was built in the UK (Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire) in 1907. To be fair, the general concept was actually applied for the Columbus Circle in New York four years earlier, in 1903. But the idea never really took off over there. Not until recently.
Early versions were widely rejected as they did not deliver the smooth traffic flows intended. And the definite solution was not related to its design, but to a new and ingenious traffic regulation: Traffic entering a roundabout must unconditionally give right-of-way to vehicles already in circulation.
Most people appreciate the obvious benefits of the roundabout solution as compared to traditional traffic intersections entirely controlled by traffic lights.
The City of Fort Collins reports up to 90% less fatalities, 30-40% less pedestrian crashes and a 30-50% increase in traffic capacity. 75% fewer conflict points than a 4-way intersection. No signal equipment to install and repair. And not least, an estimated annual savings of USD 5,000 for each roundabout.
Some people still hate them
In spite of all this, there is still a lot of opposition around, particularly in the US:
This may partly be explained by the relative novelty of roundabouts over there, partly by different attitudes towards independent decision-making, and partly by differences in execution, in the US they are often single lane. Note: These explanations are far from scientific, but haphazardly picked from more or less questionable online sources.
To counteract such negative attitudes, the British Roundabout Appreciation Society (Yes, for real!) was founded. The following quote from their website says it all:
“Unlike fascist, robotic traffic lights where we are told when to stop and go, the roundabout allows us to show one another our very own English decorum.”
Love them or hate them, but roundabouts are steadily growing in popularity among city planners. In Europe they saw the light in 1970s and initiated the boom that we are still experiencing today. In 2010 some 30,000 roundabouts were in use in the UK, another 25,000 in France, and so forth. And the boom reportedly continues, even in the USA.