Roundabouts are good, if they have multiple lanes

Alistair Paterson /


Published Mar 22, 2013 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

First let me state I’m a huge fan of roundabouts — I mean a really huge fan. However, I’m equally adamant about my disapproval of one-lane roundabouts. While they function adequately with light traffic loads, they are no better than, or often even worse than a traffic light or four-way stop. Why? Well it’s important to understand why roundabouts evolved and became such a popular traffic control feature in virtually every other developed country on the planet. A multilane roundabout is designed to slow down and then funnel traffic through an intersection without ever stopping traffic — any of it. A well-designed roundabout can handle enormous amounts of traffic in a manner which requires no special mechanics or driving skills, nor do they require significantly more real estate, as the interior circle can be very small.

A single lane roundabout on a busy intersection, however, defeats the whole object of this exercise, backing up traffic in long lines and forcing drivers to become increasingly aggressive as they attempt to insert themselves into the traffic flow.

The fact that Bend has multiple such roundabouts attests to only one thing — that only a few of them are installed at high traffic intersections, and those that are, are already infamous for their dysfunction, to wit the roundabout at the intersection of Reed Market Road and Bond Street, which is a complete mess at rush hour and special events.

The latest design for the much-debated roundabout at the intersection of 15th and Reed Market Road will be a disaster if it’s built as proposed, and will add significant fuel to the fire for those who oppose all roundabouts. It’s a hybrid version of a single lane roundabout with a second lane added for a small portion of the circle, and an extended waiting lane for traffic trying to integrate themselves into the flow of cars.

The beauty of a multilane roundabout is that drivers know with certainty they’re not required to stop and that once they’re on the circle, all they have to do to exit is to merge into the outside lane once their desired turn is sign-posted as next. This merge is intuitive in much the same way as one merges into a turn lane only once it is for the next exit. A hybrid semi-single partial dual lane roundabout doesn’t provide drivers with that certainty which leads to much confusion as evidenced by just such a roundabout at the intersection of Wilson Avenue and Bond Street, where near misses are a regular occurrence.

All of this confusion has done nothing to further the legitimate value of multilane roundabouts. I often hear people say they simply don’t belong in Bend (or anywhere else in the U.S.), and that our driving styles just don’t lend themselves to incorporating roundabouts into our driving habits. For those who believe that, consider this: Millions of Americans travel to Britain annually and while many admittedly never need to rent a car, those who do drive end up doing so in vehicles that have their steering on the opposite side and while having to drive on the other side of the road. And yet the vast majority manage to do all that while also successfully negotiating the multilane roundabouts which exist at almost every major intersection.

They’re able to do this because it’s immediately apparent to anyone capable of holding a driver’s license that roundabouts function superbly well and using them properly is absolutely intuitive. There is one proviso to all this, however, and that is they very quickly learn how important it is to indicate properly and in a timely fashion, something which many Bend drivers, including many police officers, fail to do.

So I say yes — please build more roundabouts, but please, don’t build any more single-lane ones!