By John Allen
For this month’s Safety Corner we’ll check out a modern design, a roundabout. (I have previously posted, a Safety Corner article about riding through a small rotary intersection in Waltham. Scroll down for it in the August, 2021 Wheelpeople.)
Massachusetts has a few modern roundabouts, though most circular intersections here are old-style rotaries (called traffic circles in other states). I shot the video in this article in Montreal, Quebec while on a bicycle tour with a friend.
The location in the video, FYI. Have a look at the video and then I’ll follow up with some comments. You can also go direct to the video URL: https://vimeo.com/363968280
Roundabout on the Île-des-Soeurs (Nuns' Island) Montréal, QC, Canada. from John Allen on Vimeo.
This link is to the location in Google Maps: https://goo.gl/maps/p5aUVsz4SWspCvwZA
A circular intersection maintains smoother traffic flow and has more capacity than an intersection with traffic signals. Modern roundabouts have deflection – the entrances are curved. Also, there is typically a truck apron at the center: a large truck’s left rear wheel(s) must go up onto the truck apron for it to travel straight through or turn left. These features slow traffic down, increasing time for drivers to negotiate right of way and reducing the severity of crashes.
Roundabout proponents like to stress the advantages, but there are also some real problems. Because traffic flow exiting a roundabout is constant, gaps where traffic in cross streets nearby can cross or enter are fewer. Unless drivers are conscientious about yielding at crosswalks, pedestrians have a harder time at roundabouts than at signalized intersections. In a two-lane roundabout, driver are supposed to yield to traffic in both lanes and go immediately to the inner lane to go straight through or turn left. Drivers must then cross the outer lane when exiting from the inner lane. These issues have led to quite a bit of confusion and to increases in crash rates.
Quebec is very set on the idea that bicyclists should not have to ride in line with motor traffic, though that inevitably results in more crossing and turning conflicts. Fortunately, traffic was light as I checked out this roundabout. I first rode around on a sidepath. A motorist was approaching at only one crosswalk, and yielded to me.
I also rode around in the roadway. That is shorter, and faster, and easy going because, as I noted earlier, motor traffic is slow. Except when preparing to exit, I kept to the inside, where traffic, and there are no entrances or exits. The video reveals that two sides of the roundabout were originally two-lane, with the issures I have mentioned. Striping a gore (no-drive zone) next to the center island in one leg reduced it to one lane, at least in theory – you’ll notice that the paint is worn – and I rode over the gore myself. Bad me. But I avoided a potential conflict with an entering vehicle!
CRW Safety Coordinator John has a CyclingSavvy course coming up in September – you may check it out here.