Roundabouts are (slowly!) eating the suburbs

Hillsboro, Va., recently added traffic on both sides of town to improve the flow of travelers from West Virginia to D.C.
Hillsboro, Va., recently added traffic on both sides of the city to improve the flow of travelers from West Virginia to DC (Michael S. Williamson/Washington Post)


A quiet revolution is sweeping America’s suburbs. And it would have continued, unmeasured and unsaid, if not for Lee Rodegerdts.

It turns out the good folks at the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics don’t track the nation’s roads, rotaries or traffic circles. Indeed, no government agency does. Instead, the heavy responsibility has, for a quarter of a century, fallen on the shoulders of Rodegerdts, a professional and beautiful photographer and pianist in Portland, Ore.

In the 1990s, the Federal Government created the moral but unsavory Rodegerdts to write a book on the campaign. The result is “Roundabouts: A Practical Guide.” In the course of his research, Rodegerdts was surprised to see that no one was tracking the new intersections that are rising across the country.

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So he began to count. And it continues to count, from other manuals, through many roundabout meetings and confabs, from roundabout research projects and from the final actual roundabout design. His account soon moved online, where he still spends his time working by posting from a small army of amateur tour operators, analyzing the changes. updated and removed their construction dates using published and historical satellite imagery.

When Rodegerdts started, it counted about 300 places around the country. Just 25 years later, it numbered 9,000. And that doesn’t include the 160-plus rotaries or the 700-plus traffic circles (which are very different from the competition).

Compared to the hundreds of thousands of intersections that dot the American landscape, judged by stop signs and traffic lights, the roundabout is a rare beast. But unlike the drivers they are often confused and shy, the cycle comes fast.

“People are surprised that we can keep it up,” Rodegerdts told us. “But now I think we have.”

Today’s cycle relies on geometric patterns that force it to run slowly, in addition to a simple innovation born in 1960s Britain: the rule that people already in the cycle have the right. In traditional rotaries and traffic circles, which are still in many East Coast cities, traffic is faster and the cars already in the circle usually have to make new arrivals.

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In the United States, the earliest races were often established in large cities. In general, our analysis shows that, they will mostly be established in higher education institutions, high incomes. Today, the fastest growing is in the suburbs and rural areas.

“It’s very difficult to fit tourism into our metropolitan area,” Rodegerdts said. “And so most of the competition has gone in, either in the names of new subdivisions or retrofits of existing – often suburban or rural – intersections.”

Why add a circle, you might ask. Because roundabouts are very safe. In general, roundabouts will reduce fatal crashes by 90 percent​​​​​​​​​​​​ and cut all vehicle crashes with at least 75 percent of injuries, even when increasing the number of vehicles. .

At a rural two-way stop, the result can be even more disturbing. A circle can pass all the injured vehicles, both fatal and non-fatal, almost 90 percent. After all, it is almost impossible to blow through the environment at 60 miles per hour and T-bone a minivan – a common occurrence in rural intersections.

“That’s the beauty of the cycle,” Rodegerdts told us. “It’s the geometry. It’s the curves that work. And don’t rely on the car-control device to be the only thing that keeps you from crashing at high speed.”

So which state is the roundaboutiest? Florida boasts the most roundabouts, but it also has three-largest in the country. Nebraska has the most cycles per capita, but they are spread across one of the most diverse (and often beautiful) roads in the country. A mile down the road, Maryland emerged as a roundabout winner.

The city ranking, on the other hand, is almost impossible. Almost every way you cut the data, especially the Indianapolis suburb of Carmel in the country’s roundabout capital. And, like Rodegerdts’s database, Carmel’s network of roundabouts is often the work of a visionary man – in this case, seven-time Republican mayor and niche-famous roundabout boost Jim Brainard.

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A lawyer by training, Brainard’s experience with competition when he took office in 1996 was widely seen in the United Kingdom. But today’s intersections have caused a sensation, and when his representatives asked for a safer, safer way to walk in the city, he thought he had a solution.

Roundabouts have become increasingly rare in the United States back then. As one of the highest income, most educated cities in the country, Carmel is fertile ground for automotive development. However, it took some effort and a weekend research trip to Purdue University to convince the local expert, who was skeptical. (More than a hundred intersections later, Brainard said, the once doubter became a leading seeker in architecture and a leader in the revolution.)

Most tourist-oriented towns and cities move cautiously, but Brainard gets the train without the trouble of pure change through an effort of will — and a little bit of carefully designed public debt.

Brainard’s attitude is that if Paris can create a world-class, circular-infused urban area on flat land that is not beautiful but useful, then Carmel can (say CAR – mull). He carefully but boldly, speaks of his purpose in epochal terms, referring to European empires and monarchs when he explains the need to build infrastructure to last for thousands of years. before.

And king is almost a suitable job for Brainard at this point. Carmel became a city in 1976, when the White Airplane began to swell it and other areas. Brainard has now served longer than all mayors in the city’s history combined (a fun fact we got from Indianapolis Star columnist James Briggs). During that time, Brainard saw the city grow from 38,000 residents to more than 100,000.

As mayor, he created 140-plus matches, resulting in so many deaths that the local fire department rarely used its jaws of life to clear the property anymore. But the circle is just one pillar in Brainard’s larger plan to create a large, European-style city in central Indiana. Toward the end, he added a walkway, foliage and a lighted auditorium that hosted all of the Carmel Symphony Orchestra’s Michael Bolton holiday specials.

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The roundabouts are a linchpin in Brainard’s vision of a walkable downtown. That’s not all because they are often friendly to pedestrians, but because they can reduce pollution and allow manufacturers to fit more cars in a small space. In an important stretch of its main north-south drag, Carmel replaces five lanes of traffic with only two lanes and several detours. Green spaces and sidewalks have sprouted where the lines used to be, and all the traffic on the road has increased.

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In all of Carmel, only nine trains run regularly, Brainard said. And when he leaves for work next year, the city will be on the way to one. Ironically, according to nearby documents, it was the location of one of the first automatic traffic lights in the United States. And now, in Carmel at least, it may be the end.

“It’s in the middle of a little town that’s been there forever, and there’s houses on all four corners, so that’s where it’s going to be,” Brainard said, explaining that there is simply no room for circulation in that place.

But “it’s safe enough,” the mayor assured us. “You can’t drive too fast in that area.”

Why? Because, he said, “We put a circle at each end!”

Hello! The Information Center would be nothing without your questions from the database! We want to know what you want to know about. Which city has the worst? Which country exports more human hair? How many jobs did The Paycheck Protection Program actually do? saved? Just ask!

To get all the questions, answers and facts in your inbox as soon as we post, Register here. If your question appears on the side, we will send a Department of Data button and ID card. This week, a package goes to our colleague Shira Ovide, who will be your Tech Friend if you Sign up for his latest newsletter. Shira’s question about replacing the door made us think of other bad practices that could be done better. Another button goes to Rob DeRocker, the New York public relations expert who represents Carmel and who last year uttered the six most ridiculous words in the English language: “Let us make a travel story.”


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