I hate waiting at traffic lights.
There’s a solution: traffic circles, or roundabouts.
Traffic circles terrified me when I first confronted them in Europe. A movie, “National Lampoon’s European Vacation,” captured my experience when it portrayed Chevy Chase driving in London, unable to exit a rotary all day.
Besides being hard to navigate, I also assumed roundabouts cause problems, but a Freakanomics podcast woke me to their advantages. Roundabouts are a reason Britain’s rate of traffic deaths is less than half that of the U.S.
“We’ve converted almost all of our traffic lights to roundabouts because we save lives,” said the mayor of Carmel, Indiana, Jim Brainard. His little town now has 133 roundabouts.
A University of Wisconsin-Madison study confirmed that roundabouts save lives. Roundabouts increased crashes a bit, but deaths and injuries dropped by 38%.
It’s because of the angle of the cars, said Mr. Brainard. “Instead of a T-bone, you got a sideswipe.”
Roundabouts also slow cars down a little, giving drivers more time to react.
“That makes it seem like it’ll take longer for cars to get through intersections,” I told Mr. Brainard.
“It really doesn’t,” he responded. “A roundabout moves 50% more traffic than a traffic light.”
More than a four-way stop sign intersection, too, according to a test ran by the TV show “Mythbuster.”
Roundabouts are also better for the environment.
“You never come to a complete stop,” Mr. Brainard pointed out. “Tremendous amounts of fuel are saved.”
Indianapolis realtor Jason Compton said roundabouts even increase the value of homes “because they just flat out look better (by adding) more green space.”
Sometimes communities put artwork in the middle.
Bottom line: Roundabouts are safer, cost less, move more traffic and are better for the environment.
“Yet, most Americans still say, ‘I don’t want these things,’” I told Mr. Brainard. “ ‘They’re confusing. I’m more likely to have an accident!’”
“Well, it takes public education,? he responded. “Chevy Chase didn’t do us any favors.”
Mr. Brainard pointed out that Mr. Chase was stuck in a large rotary, not a roundabout. Some traffic circles and rotaries have many lanes. The one by Paris? Arc De Triomphe connects 12 roads!
“Those are dangerous,” Brainard said. “ That’s not what we’re building. Modern roundabouts are small; the smaller they are, the safer they become. They’re very different.”
Europe learned that lesson. European countries are building lots of small roundabouts.
“America is way behind,” I told Mr. Brainard.
“America is catching up,” he replied. “When I started, we probably had under a couple of hundred in the United States. Today, we’re pushing five or six thousand.”
Still, his little town, with just 97,000 residents, has 2% of all the roundabouts in America.
John Stossel is author of “Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media.” For other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.
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