Making their “debut” in Europe, traffic circles – also known as roundabouts, traffic diverters, or rotary traffic islands – are becoming more prominent in North America. Yet, familiarity, if not the ability to navigate around them, is lagging for motorists in the United States.
Built with the goal of accident and congestion reduction, traffic circles have actually increased collisions and, in many cases, slowed traffic to a crawl.
A Circle of Confusion and Danger
For bicyclists who do not have the luxury of a protective metal enclosure that comes with motor vehicles, unfamiliarity combined with “not being seen” can have catastrophic consequences. Many drivers have enough issues with bicycles traveling alongside of them, let alone sharing a traffic circle where rules of the road are slightly altered.
Traffic circles are very similar to four-way stops. Everyone, regardless of the transport they are operating, must reduce their speed and yield to pedestrians entering crosswalks, traffic already in the circle, and the first vehicle operator approaching the ring.
Even for the most seasoned rider, traffic circles require extreme caution and strict attention to their surroundings. With slow-moving traffic, they are forced to slow down as well, almost to the point where the bicycle will no longer move forward. When they are moving, they encounter apprehensive drivers who aggressively brake, suddenly change lanes, and yield or stop unnecessarily for vehicles entering the circle.
The growing prominence of traffic circles makes them more challenging to avoid. Regardless of what powers their vehicles, all operators must ensure the safety of cyclists and everyone else on the road.