Whilst the US favours the intersection, here we often use roundabouts to funnel our traffic this way and that.
When motor cars were young- and slow, the roundabout seemed the perfect solution to everyone. It depended heavily on weaving theory – which, if I understand it correctly, is all about how, with a continuous stretch of road, vehicles can often cross lanes without causing disruption to the flow.
It worked perfectly with model T Fords and other ancient bunclacters, but as cars got faster, and there were more of them, this caused a huge problem on roundabouts.
As Edmund Waddell, Transport Planner for the State of Michigan, observed: “Built in 1907, the Place de l’Etoille surrounds the Arc de Triumph with a twelve-leg, twelve-lane traffic circle, and a circulating roadway 38 meters wide. 7 After the war, U.S. occupation forces visiting Paris would have seen the Place de l’Etoille jammed with nearly 20,000 vehicles per hour and frequent crashes. ”
Circles, which should be the epitome of order, were reduced to chaos. And the US took one look at this and halted development of the roundabout concept.
The Brits had other ideas. They were not about to take no for an answer. The convention for a roundabout had always been that those on the roundabout simply allowed those entering it on. But what, they wondered, would happen if people coming onto the roundabout had to stop and give way?
It solved the problem. Seamlessly. “A roundabout IS geometry, Wadell said. “Unlike a signal, roundabout performance is entirely controlled by geometry and markings. ”
Which is probably why the Brits, consummate queuers, rule-book junkies, love them so much.
Or do we? Our road planners use them mercilessly. And I remember Phil coming in one day and explaining how he came up to a mini-roundabout at exactly the same time as two other motorists came to the other entrances onto the tiny circle. “We all went on,” he said “and it worked. No-one crashed. Everyone went on their way. Sorted.”
And that’s how you handle a roundabout. Whilst one must wait for a gap and then launch into the melée, there is an extent to which you can play the system and use that weaving theory to its utmost.
But on occasion, you just have to push.
It helps in this situation to have an ancient car with several battle scars so that everyone is well aware you have nothing to lose. Like a dog with ragged ears the pedigree cars are likely to give way to protect their sassy paint jobs.
Step 1: check who’s where in the mirror. Step 2: signal your intention. And Chevy Chase. this is for you: step 3, gently , firmly, inexorably, move towards that which you desire: the exit to the roundabout.
Even a London Cabbie, wth all his swagger, will stop when the rules says he has to.
That’s easier said than done when your roundabout has five or six tiny mini roundabouts circling it. When roundabouts hunt in packs it’s best to be respectful.
I have tackled the Magic Roundabout: that maelstrøm in Swindon, Wiltshire which answers to the above description. I was fortunate enough to be always glancing off it, never heading to its eye. That would be a Herculean labour and I fear I, like Chevy, would be still circling once darkness had come, looking helplessly for the way out.
Written in rather late response (with apologies to Sidey) to Side View’s last weekend theme: Swings and Roundabouts, which you can find here.