How To Use A Roundabout
Round and Round We Go

Roundabout Utah

So why would I write an article about how to use a roundabout?  Those circles of maddening mystery that are appearing everywhere including here in Utah. 

They tease us with their apparent simplicity but often leaving us dizzy with questions. Usually, my question is about the person in front of me.  “What in hell is that guy doing?  Why is he just sitting there?”

If you've been lost, confused or just plain apprehensive about tackling these traffic circles, you're not alone.  Judging by the number of befuddled people I’ve seen stopped at one of these easy-to-understand traffic marvels, we need to discuss this mundane subject. 

Why roundabouts you ask again?  On a travel site?  Cue the age-old saying - everything happens for a reason.  Roundabouts are certainly no exception.  Their primary aim is to enhance traffic flow and bolster road safety.

Think of them as benevolent knights in shining armor riding in to save you from the clutches of right-angle and head-on collisions.  At intersections and so-called stop lights.

Roundabouts have been steering their way through traffic since 1905.  They started in turn-of-the-century New York … and that’s not this century. However, their transformation to modern, more compact versions didn't happen until the 1990s. 

Utah has adopted these traffic pattern improvements … I’m all on board … with open arms even though they're arguably still in their infancy here.

Entering A Roundabout

So why do these simple circles petrify some drivers from Salt Lake City to St. George?  Well, maybe not the people between.   Except for Utah County.  I’m never sure about those people. 

But I’ll definitely include Park City here as I’ve seen it with their one roundabout at the confluence of the roads leading to and from Deer Valley, just up from Main Street and Marsac Avenue.

The blame largely rests on the shoulders of the unfamiliar.  The choice to either "yield" or “proceed” often stumps drivers disrupting the harmonious flow these roundabouts were designed to improve.  Why they continue to be stumped stumps me.

Roundabout Diagram

So What Is A Roundabout?

A roundabout is actually an intersection.  But what is it exactly?  A modern roundabout is a circular intersection where drivers travel counterclockwise around a center island.  There are no traffic signals or stop signs in a modern roundabout.  They are designed to move traffic along efficiently and not bog it down.

I don’t believe that hesitancy at a roundabout is just a Utah phenomenon as there is plenty of evidence online that many people don’t know what to do when they encounter the dreaded roundabout.

Entering A Roundabout

Fear no more!  Let's break down the art of entering a roundabout. It isn’t difficult.  Approach calmly, slow down and cast a careful eye on the cars marching in from your left that are already in the roundabout.  They have the right of way.  Spot a safe gap?  Great!  Enter the circle with your head held high and a firm grasp on your steering wheel.

If the guy … or gal or whatever … on your right knows what they are doing, there is no need to worry about them.  Theoretically.  Because, as you now know, you have the right of way.  Unless that person is an idiot and doesn’t know the rule above.

Now that you've gracefully entered the circle, there is no need for a victory lap around the circle.  And the roundabout is a circle.  Simply indicate your planned exit with your right-turn signal and before you know it, you've successfully navigated a roundabout.  Once the initial “roundabout jitters” are tamed, it's smooth cruising.

I hope the above wasn’t too complicated.  If it was, please let me know on the “Comment” section at the bottom of this article.  I will be happy to answer your question if I can.

Are Roundabouts A Fad?

No, roundabouts aren't a passing fad.  Expect many more to sprout up in Utah … and throughout the U.S. … as they continue to be the traffic control system of choice.  Why?  Because they work. 

Their ability to manage an increasing volume of vehicles efficiently is impressive.  Just as long as “that … ” doesn’t sit there holding up traffic because they don’t know how to proceed.

“Why are the experts pining for more roundabouts?" you may be asking.  Well, to quote the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), roundabouts have proven their worth by reducing fatal crashes by a whopping 90%. 

These traffic circles give the assurance of safety while ushering in swifter commutes.  Yes, that’s despite the prevalence of people … probably just anecdotal … who don’t have a clue how to navigate them. 

The enigma of roundabouts isn't just confined to the traffic lanes.  They're tailored to accommodate the bold cyclist and the safety-conscious pedestrian also with designated safe crossing points.

Equality on the road, remember?  Roundabouts value both the mighty semi and the defenseless eBike.  At least that’s their intent.

UDOT (Utah Department of Transportation) has invested a lot of time and assets to try and educate the public about how to navigate roundabouts effectively.  They firmly believe that with education, roundabouts can ease congestion and enhance road safety.

The secret to mastering the art of roundabout navigation is threefold: practice, patience and awareness.  Add in a dash of consideration for pedestrians, observance of in-circle traffic and a timely signal at the exit. 

The patience part is something we all have to learn.  It usually involves the driver who has never seen a roundabout.  Or done a little research as to how to navigate one.

Roundabout Vector

A quick recap.  How are roundabouts improving Utah's … and the rest of the country’s … traffic flow?  The answer is simple if everyone learns the rules. 

The ingenious geometric design forces drivers to slow down naturally.  It thus eliminates the need for traffic signals and lets vehicles flow smoothly like a river around a bend.

Don’t you absolutely hate stop traffic lights?  Especially the red ones.  When I attended the University of Utah and played football there, I remember how we used to be able time the traffic lights from downtown … where the eating places were … to the “U” along 4th South depending on what the time was. 

We had made that drive so many times that we had it programmed into our skulls.  We never took into consideration someone might have timed it another way in the opposite direction.  Randomness.  Whoops.

I’ve got to admit, roundabouts make sense.  And every time I encounter one, I breathe a sigh of relief because there’s no traffic light.  Roundabouts do slow traffic down without stopping it.

No waiting at lights.  And nasty side-swipe and rear-end collisions are mostly eliminated.  The severity of any potential collision is diminished thanks to the slower pace.

Let’s talk about single-lane and dual-lane roundabouts.  In single-lane versions, drivers yield to circulating traffic and pick their lane before entering.  Doesn’t sound too complicated does it?

Dual-lane roundabouts present an additional challenge.  Here you must choose your lane based on your desired exit.  Keep it simple.  Planning on turning right or going straight?  Stick to the right lane.  Going straight, turning left or doing a U-turn?  You belong in the left lane.

If you're a pedestrian or cyclist, fear not!  Roundabouts in Utah offer you safe crossing zones.  Look for well-marked pedestrian crossings on the approaches to the roundabout.  Following rules while crossing should get you safely across.

Here's an unexpected bonus for those who keep track.  Roundabouts are a green choice. They reduce unnecessary stops and excess idling at signals. 

That means fewer emissions from your vehicle and less fuel consumed.  No matter what your political or philosophical leanings are, that’s still got to be win-win.

Utah is implementing roundabouts in both urban and rural areas wherever it is feasible.  Notable mentions include 9th South and 11th east in Salt Lake City, Sandy, Heber, Draper and Park City. 

Utah's roundabouts aren't just about flow and safety.  They can even double as frames for public art and dotingly cared-for gardens.  I would like to hear your opinion of the whale sculpture at 9th South and 11th East in Salt Lake City.  I have mine.

It seems that these circular puzzles are being embraced.  UDOT reports that Utah residents are beginning to appreciate the efficiency of roundabouts.  I know I do.  I love them.  If the person in front of you isn’t stumped, they work amazingly well.  Just as they were intended.

Roundabouts in Utah may symbolize progression.  But, in reality, they result in efficiency and increased safety.  They may appear complex but once you understand their rhythm, navigating one is almost as rewarding as winning a round of Solitaire. 

And, thank you for reading.  I just had to get this pet peeve … shared by my wife sitting in the navigator position … off my chest.

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