All About Roundabouts: Help for the Circularly Challenged

The Port Orchard City Council on Tuesday will vote on design options for the Tremont Street “City Gateway” project to address community concerns about roundabouts in the current design. Check Friday for the story.

According to RoundaboutsUSA, “the site dedicated to free traffic flow through the design and use of roundabouts,” there’s a difference between a roundabout and a traffic circle.

From the Web site: “A modern roundabout has three major characteristics compared to its predecessors, traffic circles and rotaries. First, the roundabout gives vehicles in the circular travel way the right-of-way. This change on a national basis in England in 1963 marked the start of the modern roundabout era.”

Roundabouts are generally smaller than their predecessors and generally include a raised “splitter” island that slows down or constrains speed just before entry, the Web site says.

According to the Washington State Department of Transportation, roundabouts stand out over traffic circles because in roundabouts, drivers wishing to enter must yield to vehicles already in the circle. “With many of the older traffic circles,” the site says, “drivers inside the circle must yield to the vehicles entering the circle. Traffic circles quickly clogged up and came to a standstill when and if many vehicles entered at the same time.”

I remember driving through Washington, D.C., in the late 1970s with my then-fiancee in a battered 1950s International Travelall that formerly served as a Wyoming school bus.
It was was not a thing of beauty, and drivers in their shiny town cars scattered as we entered the city’s baffling traffic circles, often making numerous rotations before navigating into a lane where we could GET THE HECK OUT, headed in absolutely the wrong direction.

Port Orchard officials have heard concerns from citizens that roundabouts are difficult to navigate. South Kitsap already has one roundabout at the intersection of Bethel Avenue and Highway 160. Drivers appear to have learned how to navigate this obstacle (at least the times I’ve driven through). Rush hour on Tremont Street could present a different picture.

Mark Dorsey, Port Orchard’s new public works director, is optimistic.
“I think people can be taught,” he said.

WSDOT’s Web site includes tips for the roundabout challenged and a link to a how-to video courtesy of the cities of Lacey and Olympia, which apparently are the self-proclaimed roundabout know-it-alls.

My Tip: Get a Traveall or similarly ugly vehicle and at least people will get out of your way.

And if you’re feeling really hard core about roundabouts: Modern Roundabouts, which touts itself as a “definitive” source of information about roundabouts, has a database of all roundabouts current and proposed in the United States.

4 thoughts on “All About Roundabouts: Help for the Circularly Challenged

  1. If people really find it that difficult, they can go down to Gig Harbor and practice.

    Roundabouts are better than traffic lights for moving cars and a whole lot cheaper to maintain. Of course they require more right-of-way and some of that belongs to the Lord Mayor…

  2. Roundabouts are no big deal to learn. Mark Dorsey is correct. Take a trip abroad and you’ll find that the great majority of drivers in “third world” countries can handle them quite well.

    Certainly drivers in this great nation are no less capable?

    Monty Mahan

  3. Mr. Mahan, nicely put, let’s not bother ourselves with what those pesky voters/taxpayers want or what is the best fit for the area. Let’s not worry about the concerns of the Fire Dept or Police. Don’t worry about the person waiting for medical response. Just build it and let them like it. This is the leadership quality I’ll be looking for in the new SK Commissioner.

  4. Mike,

    I was commenting upon the concept of roundabouts and whether people can learn to use them. I’ve never proposed ignoring the voters/taxpayers and Fire Department or Police.

    If the process is handled correctly you can find out how the majority feels and make sure that emergency services can make good use of these and any other road designs, where they are appropriate.

    Monty Mahan

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