Ian Blyth – It's Just a Thought

My thoughts and opinions

Roundabouts Don’t Work

Posted by Ian Blyth on 15 January 2008

I am sure when roundabouts were first introduced they may well have helped traffic flow. But since then traffic levels have increased enormously and it seems that people’s road manners have degraded significantly.

As part of my current journey I go through a number of roundabouts. There is a big one that has 4 major exits. The trouble is in the morning only 2 of them are used and as they are next to each other the junction on the right has priority and it seems like a never ending supply of cars. So the junction I am on backs up both lanes for some distance and only a couple of cars can get onto the roundabout every few minutes. Roundabouts were meant to help regulate the flow but I have found that only happens if the traffic is light or if all the junctions are used equally.

I suppose that is why we see more and more traffic lights on roundabouts. After all if roundabouts were supposed to control the flow then you would not need traffic lights as well. The trouble with traffic lights is that they can not see the traffic build up like an old fashion policeman could when controlling traffic. If they get the controls right then all is well otherwise some junctions are clear while other junctions get backed up. So to put a system that may not always work at controlling traffic on top of another system that may not always work – well it is hardly a recipe for success.

An example of this is a roundabout at a motorway junction that I use to get home. My journey usually takes about 40 minutes but one night it took 1 hour 40 minutes all due to this one roundabout which is meant to help the flow of traffic.

In the morning I am on the motorway and exit at this roundabout and filter to the left for the first exit so that works OK. In the evening I have to go around the roundabout 270 degrees to get to the right exit. In between me and the exit is 4 sets of traffic lights. And it is a nightmare. The main traffic seems to be coming out of a major town and wants to turn right onto the motorway also so they have to do 270 around the traffic lights as well. This seems to be OK when traffic is light but as soon as traffic picks up it is horrendous as people try and switch lanes to get into the right one as they go around.

I think that the major problem though is with people. Hence my comment about road manners. There are yellow box zones which means that you do not enter them unless your exit is clear. Nobody takes any notice of these as that may mean they lose a few seconds or, god forbid, someone will get in front of them! So they go into the grids and stop. So when the traffic lights change the people that need to cross the grid can not and have to stop and the people going around should stay where they are but know if they do that the others will fill up the grid again when the lights change and so they will be stuck there. It is a vicious circle. I wish I had an answer but following the highway code and being polite seems to me to be the best answer.

When I was in Canada and going to cross a road a solitary car stopped for me to cross even though the roads were clear and as soon as he passed I could cross without bother. I was amazed. That would never happen in the UK. In the States they have junctions that everyone has to stop at and take turns in entering the crossroads. It seems to work really well as each junction gets a fair share and if one junction is clear of traffic then that speeds up the other three. You do not get these frustrating queues like at roundabouts due to the cars on the right having right of way. Unfortunately I do not see them working in the UK as people would have to have self restraint and manners. What a sad indictment of the country I live in.


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