December 9, 2004

Going in Circles

Our local transportation folks are excited about traffic circles. I have not been as thrilled. The first one installed creates backups in a direction that did not have backups before and does not eliminate the backups on the side street that previously had them.

It may be that I have not been thinking about this in the right way:

The circle is remarkable for what it doesn't contain: signs or signals telling drivers how fast to go, who has the right-of-way, or how to behave. There are no lane markers or curbs separating street and sidewalk, so it's unclear exactly where the car zone ends and the pedestrian zone begins. To an approaching driver, the intersection is utterly ambiguous - and that's the point.

Monderman and I stand in silence by the side of the road a few minutes, watching the stream of motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians make their way through the circle, a giant concrete mixing bowl of transport. Somehow it all works. The drivers slow to gauge the intentions of crossing bicyclists and walkers. Negotiations over right-of-way are made through fleeting eye contact. Remarkably, traffic moves smoothly around the circle with hardly a brake screeching, horn honking, or obscene gesture. "I love it!" Monderman says at last. "Pedestrians and cyclists used to avoid this place, but now, as you see, the cars look out for the cyclists, the cyclists look out for the pedestrians, and everyone looks out for each other. You can't expect tr

This makes me reconsider my dislike for our local traffic circle. It seems to make sense to eliminate things like stop signs and traffic lights so that users can make decisions based on the existing local context. Perhaps we will see more of this in other areas of government activity.

Via Marginal Revolution.

Posted by Steve on December 9, 2004

From what I've seen, traffic circles in the US are mostly used to slow traffic, not to improve traffic flow or improve the relationship between car and not-car. The circle in my neighborhood has stop signs on all four entrances when they should be yield signs. Elsewhere I've seen ones that force you to slow down and squeeze between it and the curb. Compare to the UK where a traffic circle can be a circle painted in the road.

Posted by Andrew Dalke at December 15, 2004 12:17 PM
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