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As global traffic spirals, roundabouts are on a roll

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Columbus Circle in New York has just  won the coveted title of “Best Roundabout in  the World 2013.” The award is helping focus American minds on the benefits of this traffic management system, which seems typically British.

Kevin Beresford, head of the U.K. Roundabout Appreciation Society, seems to embody the U.K.’s national enthusiasm for roundabouts.

“They lift our spirits on long, tiresome journeys,” he says. “Their appeal lies in their inventiveness and creativeness.”

Inventiveness? Creativeness? Beresfordexplains the roundabout’s infinite, aesthetic possibilities.

“You can put anything on a roundabout. And I’ve seen fountains, statues, windmills, a duck pond, pubs, churches, trains, boats, planes — you name it! You can put anything on a roundabout. That’s what makes them so special.”  

His enthusiasm is infectious. Roundabouts are spreading, although probably not for aesthetic reasons. The number of these traffic systems more than doubled around the world to 60,000 in the last fifteen years.  

That’s a source of pride and satisfaction for Britain’s Transport Research Laboratory, which claims to have invented the modern roundabout in the 1960s. The Laboratory devised the rule that traffic approaching the gyratory system should give way to traffic already circulating, which generally ensures a smoother flow of traffic than crossroads or traffic lights.

“In general ,they’re superior,” says the laboratory’s Mark Crabtree. “People have to stop at a red light, whether or not there’s lots of traffic or not very much traffic. But at a roundabout, you quite often only have to slow down a bit before you get on to the roundabout.”

The roundabout is said to have flourished in Britain because it requires the British virtues of compromise and cooperation. The U.S.’s more aggressive, confrontational culture may explain why the roundabout has not been more widely adopted by Americans.    

“In fact, you’d think they would embrace it,” argues Beresford. “The roundabout is safer, greener, and it’s more aesthetically pleasing. Come on, America! Wake up! Smell the coffee! Embrace the roundabout!”

Maybe it’s beginning to. Over the past decade, the U.S. has sprouted some 3,000 roundabouts. And it can now boast “The Best Roundabout in the World,” too. 

You can buy a calendar from the U.K. Roundabout Appreciation Society featuring the above roundabouts and more by clicking here.    

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