30 August 2013

Driving in Circles

Welcome back. I’m still living in the Wisconsin hinterland. Though far from the madding or any crowd, I don’t drive much here. Judging from a handful of appointments I’ve had in or around town and my weekly trek to hunt and gather at the supermarket, I find the driving to be rather tame. By tame, I mean relaxed. 
Traffic, of course, is nothing like that in the Washington DC area I left last January or in any big city. I hope I’m not tempting fate by stating that I haven’t once played dodge-a-car, which I was prepped to do whenever I backed out of our Northern Virginia driveway.  
Roundabout road sign.

All that aside, last month I had a true driving challenge. Piloting a small hatchback to and from an eye exam, I had to be sharp, on my toes, my NASCAR best. There was no way to avoid it: I had to negotiate a modern roundabout! 

Roundabouts, Rotaries, Traffic Circles 

Yes, roundabouts are just circular road intersections, but they may not be what you think. If, like me, you grew up in New York State, you assume they’re just another traffic circle; if you’re from New England, you’ll probably think they’re rotaries. Close, but no cigar.

Developed in the UK and common outside the US, roundabouts are generally much smaller than traffic circles and rotaries. This results in slower speeds and easier access. Traffic entering a roundabout must yield to vehicles in the circle. The central island of a roundabout is normally smaller and often designed to block the entering drivers’ view of the other side of the circle.

Because roundabouts have been shown to be safer (fewer severe crashes) and reduce delays and congestion, if a change is practical and affordable, roundabouts are replacing traffic circles and rotaries. Since construction costs may not be much higher and long-term costs are lower, roundabouts are increasingly being built instead of signalized intersections.

Oh, Get Used to It!

It takes time for drivers to get used to roundabouts. Initially, drivers don’t like or really don’t like them; eventually, most drivers think they’re ok or even good. Around here, roundabouts have been in place for a year or more, yet people still talk about them and they’re mentioned in news media.

Following the approach adopted elsewhere, the state and city began long in advance to ease the transition. Not enough. To protect the citizens from the State DOT, a bill was recently introduced in the Wisconsin Assembly to require local approval before a roundabout could be built.

Drive Along with Me

I prepared assiduously for the drive. In my favor, I’ve been driving in the Washington DC area for years. Against me, I’ve been driving in the Washington DC area for years.

Modified Wisconsin Department of
Transportation graphic of a proposed
overpass and twin roundabouts.
I wasn’t facing merely a single roundabout. I was going for the big time: two roundabouts in sequence. Enter the first and exit half way around (i.e., no change in direction or, for engineers, 180 degrees around the circle), get over an overpass, immediately enter another and exit three-fourths of the way around (i.e., 270 degrees).

I studied online maps and images, printed one map to take along, added the destination to my GPS and…Success! 

Wrap Up 

Although I added the eye doctor to my never again list, I thought about driving the route again, maybe entering and exiting the roundabouts from and to different directions, just to keep up my skill. Then I learned there was a road in town with four consecutive roundabouts! I know where I’m going. Thanks for stopping by.


- Wikipedia on roundabouts: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roundabout
- Roundabouts versus rotaries: www.cityofbrooklyncenter.org/DocumentCenter/Home/View/331
- Wisconsin outreach on roundabouts:

No comments:

Post a Comment