13 October 2010

Traffic Circles

Given that I need to bike through two of Waidhofen's four traffic circles on my way to work everyday, it seemed appropriate to explain something about Europe's inexplicable affection for roudabouts, rotaries, and all things circular.  Waidhofen, with it's population of 12,000, has about one rotary for every 3,000 residents, while Providence has about one for every 175,000 residents, according to my memory.  France alone is apparently home to 50% of the world's traffic circles and the UK is home to so-called 'magic roundabouts,' where a large, two-way roundabout is composed of five or more smaller roundabouts.
Although they are, according to Wikipedia, safer for pedestrians and motorists than traditional intersecions, I remain skeptical of their advantages, at least for cyclists.  While most drivers in Austria appear to be aware that you need to yield to other autos in the circle, it is questionable whether they need to (or feel like they need to) yield to bicycles in the circle.  This has caused me much panic, but thankfully no close-calls.  And as a warning to American motorists abroad, God help you if you visit a country where people drive on the left and traffic circles flow clockwise, against all laws of nature. 

This complaints being registrered, I must admit that there are many advantages to traffic circles with regard to safety, efficiency, and aesthetics.  But as with many things distinctly European, I'm not sure that America is fully ready to adapt, despite the apparent advantages.  While adopting the metric system would mearly confuse people, building an abundance of traffic circles would probably result in America motorists plowing their mini-vans directly into the center island while speaking on the cell phone.

And, finally, the German word for these death traps is der Kreisverkehr, which fairly literally means 'traffic ring.'

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