Cities in the U.S. Copy Solution Without Understanding

The city in the U.S. that I live in has started installing more and more roundabouts.  The reasoning is it is “easier” for traffic flow.  I don’t find that to be the case at all.  I find them to be a pain to maneuver around and a hindrance to traffic flow.  Many others that I have discussed this with believe the same thing.

But they are used in Europe to help with traffic flow is the argument I get back from time to time.  “Who cares!” was my reaction.

Now imagine my chagrin when I discovered I was spending 2 weeks in the United Kingdom on business.  My buddy and I spent a lot of time driving around the UK.  To my surprise, the roundabouts were quite helpful and did help traffic flow.

Change in attitude?  No.  Change in reason.  Yes.

In the U.S. for the most part the roads are set up in a grid pattern and most intersections crossed perpendicular to each other causing 4-way stops.  In the UK many roads would come together with anywhere from 3 to 7 options of directions to go.  When there were 4 choices the streets were almost never perpendicular to each.  A stop sign or light would be very difficult so the roundabout was used.  See the pictures below:

Roundabout in the U.S.

Roundabout in the UK

As I drove more and more in the UK, I noticed how the roundabout did help traffic flow when streets weren’t perpendicular.  When streets were perpendicular stop lights were used with turn lanes just like in the U.S.

Cities are copying the roundabout as a solution for all traffic flow issues without understanding what it can be best used for.  This is why it is best to understand why solutions or countermeasures are put into place so you know when and how best to apply that learning.

Don’t copy solutions.  Learn from them.

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Posted on June 25, 2012, in Culture, Flow, Learning, Problem Solving, Tools and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Even with perpendicular streets roundabouts can still help with traffic flow if used in selected locations. There is an intersection outside St. Jacobs, Ontario where traffic was often backed-up because of waiting for the traffic light pattern. This held up large truck traffic. After the roundabout was installed, the flow was much better and the intersection became safer, probably because drivers didn’t try to beat the light before it changed from yellow to red.

    So, just copying a solution isn’t the answer, but we also have to be careful to look into the details so that we don’t overreact the same way in the other direction.

  2. I’m living in Germany and have firsthand experienced the improvement in traffic flow of roundabouts where streets are perpendicular and the traffic lights have been replaced by a roundabout. Roundabouts aren’t suited well for high traffic intersection, though.

  3. Good point about learning from solutions, but roundabouts also help when streets are perpendicular and traffic load is high :)

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