Prior Convictions: Merry-Go-Round


This is an ode to the roundabout. Yeah, I know. But go with it.

Maybe like you, I don't think about roundabouts that often, other than actually how to circumnavigate one when I'm circumnavigating it. It's just a part of daily life. I rather take them for granted.

But like having a back that works properly, or having a thumb that definitely doesn't have a paper cut right on the end of it, you're quickly aware if that situation changes.

I've just spent a two days in the USA. (I know. Get me.) And they don't very often do roundabouts there, except rarely, and in quiet, out of the way places. In two days, I saw two.

In their place, then, they have junctions. Crossroads. Straight bits instead of round bits, with controlled entry.

This is either via 'four-way stop' junctions - whoever got to the crossroads first gets to go first, after coming to a complete standstill - or traffic lights. I've spent untold minutes stationary, unnecessarily, at both.

The Americans get lots of things right - V8s, burgers, wide open spaces and the permission to use it - but I'm afraid we have them nailed when it comes to junctions.

The roundabout is a brilliant invention. Even the 'magic roundabout', several mini-roundabouts joined together, as you'll find in Swindon and Hemel Hempstead, is a marvel. I know they get some stick, but I can't think of another system that would deal with the quantity of cars that join from the sheer number of adjoining roads as deftly as Hemel's Plough roundabout does.

But more than that: they also create the compulsion to make cars steer accurately, they make a low centre of gravity useful. They are a way to experience a corner.

Maybe that's why the US doesn't have so many. There are lots of great back roads in the US. But its towns and highways are places of long, wide pavement, made for muscle cars, big trucks, RVs and trailers, with driveway ramps that must make supercar owners very adept at fitting new front splitters.

I often think you can tell a lot about a country's roads - a country's geography - by the nature of its cars. French cars used to ride lopingly on ruffled country lanes, German cars are intensely stable at high speeds, and Japanese sports cars are light and agile because their back roads suit it.

American sports cars and muscle cars are not worse for being full of woofly goodness, great between sets of lights and riding broken concrete. It'd be a shame if they weren't.

But, stopping for the nth time at a four-way junction, or for the green light to go left at a set of crossroads, you don't half realise that they'd get places quicker if they used more roundabouts.

Unless, that is, like us, they put traffic lights on them even when they're not busy. But don't get me started on those.

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (23) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Ozerob 05 May 2018

    Come to Adelaide, another largely roundabout free zone, but we have main roads with traffic light controlled 4 way junctions every 400 metres.
    A great way to waste petrol.

  • Cobnapint 05 May 2018

    Fully agree. The US un-traffic lighted crossroads where you have to come to a complete bloody stop, even if there's clearly nothing else in sight, are a nightmare.

    I happened upon my first one in the back streets of LA in 2007. I arrived at it about 1 second after another guy did that was coming from the left. He had come to a dead stop just as I was arriving. But as I was carrying a bit of momentum (no, not you Jeremy) and as he was sat there like a lemon, I carried straight on perfectly safely.

    The hand gestures and look he gave me were quite shocking. It was as if I'd torn up the US Constitution right in front of his face. I think I touched a bit of an American nerve.

    But there's one thing they have got that we could do with - right turn on red (which would be left turn on red over here).

  • markclow 05 May 2018

    One interesting they are doing in USA is reverse diamond interchanges. They seem to work well. Here is the one I cross every day:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gY8xU-UAQWs

  • CDP 05 May 2018

    The Lotus test track at Hethel used to have a roundabout at one end. Perfect for smokey goonage smile

  • jamei303 05 May 2018

    markclow said:
    One interesting they are doing in USA is reverse diamond interchanges. They seem to work well. Here is the one I cross every day:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gY8xU-UAQWs
    Only 2 phases so looks good in that video but if the traffic flow is uneven it could go far more pear-shaped than a signalised roundabout arrangement would.

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