I consider myself an optimist and a generally good-natured person. I tend to look for the very best in every situation. I will try to keep my rants to a minimum on this site … but today, I feel compelled to express how I feel about roundabout use in Waterloo Region.
As I approach a roundabout, irritation and fear completely overwhelm me. I feel strongly that I am risking my life — and the lives of nearby pedestrians — every time I venture into one!
There are two (entirely unconnected) reasons why roundabouts positively frighten and annoy me:
1. For some crazy reason, it was decided that pedestrians should have the right of way.
I’m pretty sure the entire point of roundabouts — by their very design and definition — is to keep traffic moving. So why on earth would pedestrians have the right of way? Is it really safe to step out and cross where vehicles are madly entering and exiting?
When pedestrians exercise their right of way, and step out to cross (especially in places where cars are exiting the roundabout), they are taking their lives in their hands. In my opinion, it simply doesn’t make any sense for drivers who’ve entered the roundabout to yield to such folks. You can only see about 75 degrees (a few metres) ahead of you, thanks to the enormous decorative bushes and grasses in the centre of most. Drivers are in danger of running into the car in front of them if the lead driver slams on his or her brakes to avoid a crossing pedestrian. Traffic must keep moving for roundabouts to work!
When you’re driving 30 km/h, it’s all you can handle to keep track of the other vehicles, signal your turns, shift gears (if you drive a standard), and navigate the sharp turn of the traffic circle. You most certainly cannot also deal with the possibility that a couple distracted teenagers might step out in front of the car that is four cars ahead of you, setting off a chain reaction of abrupt stops that eventually ends up halting traffic from all four directions!
Instructions for pedestrians are rather obscure.
- I wouldn’t be surprised if no one (except perhaps the person who wrote the web page and myself) has ever fully read the instructions. And those who have may not have completely understood them. (I know I was a little confused.)
- The instructions do not distinguish between roundabouts where there are signs indicating that traffic must yield to pedestrians, and those that don’t.
- Although the city councillors in the photographs seem keen to demonstrate how easy it is to stick your arm out and signal your intentions to traffic, I’ve certainly never seen any pedestrians indicate their plans so clearly.
All in all, I really believe that pedestrians and drivers would both be better served by roundabouts designed first and foremost to do their job of keeping traffic moving.
2. Most drivers do not have a clue how to use roundabouts properly.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m definitely not against roundabouts! I have done quite a bit of driving in the United Kingdom and Ireland (I lived in Edinburgh for 11 months while completing my master’s degree). I totally understand the improved efficiency of traffic flow that a roundabout can facilitate.
But only when they are used properly.
There are instructions on the region’s website. But sadly, it baffles me how rarely I see someone use a roundabout properly! I’m not exaggerating when I say that, by my estimation, only about 20% of drivers navigate roundabouts flawlessly. For everyone’s safety, shouldn’t we be aiming a lot higher?
Most people don’t know which way to signal as they approach a roundabout, while they’re in a roundabout, or as they prepare to exit a roundabout. In fact, my experience is that many drivers don’t signal at all, while many others signal the wrong way at the wrong time.
I am shocked by how many drivers have not figured out the rudimentary rule that you must yield to cars on your left. It’s scary how often I have had people pull out in front of me as they’re entering the roundabout. On two occasions, I have come within about six inches of hitting another vehicle because of this type of stupidity.
The region is planning to install more roundabouts. In principle, that excites me, because I do believe in their ability to keep traffic moving. But given how frightened I am to venture into them these days, I think the reality that so many local (not to mention visiting) drivers are not adequately educated in their proper use must be addressed.
I know the tools are out there for people, if they’ll take the time to read them. But you don’t know what you don’t know … and I think many drivers aren’t even aware that they don’t have a clue. (Probably because they’ve “learned” what to do by watching all the other drivers!)
I can really only think of one thing that might motivate people to learn how to use roundabouts properly: I would like to see a month-long blitz this summer, with the local police force closely monitoring roundabouts. They should issue tickets to anyone who doesn’t know which way to signal when they’re entering or exiting, and who doesn’t yield to traffic that is already travelling in the roundabout.
1. Do you agree that this is a problem that needs to be addressed by local governments and authorities?
2. Do you have any roundabout horror stories you would like to share?