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Making The Case For More Roundabouts

One of the places I lived before settling in the Village of Westfield was New England.

I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts which then had the distinction of being the most densely populated area around. Drivers there, like everywhere else in New England, drove lots of traffic circles, commonly called roundabouts, without causing general death and destruction.

Now if all those people can learn to drive roundabouts there’s no reason all of us can’t too. So for those among us who gripe about, or are scared to try or are still uncertain about how roundabouts work, allow me to share what I know for certain from getting comfortable driving roundabouts with New Englanders. Full disclosure, at 16, I confess learning to drive in Buffalo where there are terrific roundabouts.

Even with that early driving experience, at first in highly populated New England it appeared there were no roundabout rules. In roundabouts I couldn’t make sense of all the vehicle movements and all the signage! But rest assured there are rules, even in New England, and these rules work in roundabouts no matter where we find them. This is what I know about the rules of driving roundabouts to avoid going in circles yourself.

Drivers already in the circle have the right of way.

Yield means to give or yield the right of way, in this case to drivers in the circle since the yield sign faces drivers entering the circle.

Drivers entering the circle must safely enter the circle, preferably without coming to a full stop before entering, but sometimes you have to stop.

Once you’re in the circle keep up with traffic or enjoy the lack of it.

Roads out of the circle are like a series of forks in the road and the road you want will be on the right.

When you’re in the circle, if you need to switch to the right lane do so carefully, including use your blinker and if you miss your road just stay in the circle and try again. Lots of people admit to going around in circles more than once.

Be especially careful when you exit if drivers are entering from a road just before the road you want to take. If both drivers know and respect the rules about already in the circle and yielding it should be fine. But pay attention.

If you get off at the wrong road stay calm, find a way to turn around and get back in the roundabout.

Roundabouts are brilliant constructions. The oldest is from 1768 and those of you who dread roundabouts will be happy to know it was referred to not as a roundabout but as a circus. Most roundabouts worldwide are from the second half of the 20th century.

Traffic moves smoothly without signals through roundabouts. Roundabouts reduce idling and harmful emissions, save energy and have a record of fewer accidents than intersections. Creative design of the center island adds to the pleasure of driving roundabouts. Yes, roundabouts require drivers to pay attention but so does all of the road drivers are supposed to keep their eyes on.

It’s really nice when government acts to simplify life, which government dollars do when they’re useable for reconstructing intersections to include roundabouts. Learn to comfortably drive them. With good fortune we’ll see more.

Judy Einach is a Westfield resident serving as a village trustee.

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