An invention that relatively late came into use, has been shown to prevent accidents and save lives in traffic. Now it has become so popular that it might end up getting on the nerves of delicate motorists.

You are sitting behind the wheel of your car, and let us for the sake assume that it is a delicious classic car with an appetizing wooden steering wheel. You have obviously donned your driving gloves in soft leather, so you have a firm grip on the steering wheel slippery surface. Your vessel and you are travelling at a brisk pace but ahead lies a traffic light proudly towering with its clear green light. The color that indicates that you are permitted to drive on. Now it changes to yellow, and with your experience, you know that in a moment it turns to red. Then you must accept that the needle of the speedometer goes down and rests at 0 km/h.

You now the following two options.

  1. Step on the accelerator to increase acceleration. You will try to make the yellow light before it turns red.
  2. Accept defeat, reduce speed and start braking quite as planned and Come to a halt at the traffic light, which of course will gloat with its red lights in a moment.

Most of us know the situation, and reason mouthed parrot on the left shoulder pontificate that option number two is that we should choose – precocious. However, we have all often chosen the first option because things went along so well.

Selecting the number one occasionally causes the speed to increase just a tad too much when the light signal is passed. Seeing that the light has often changed to red in the meantime anyway. We popular call such occasions for passing an orange light or a taxi green, depending on the dialect. One may regret halfway and try to get the vehicle stopped before passing the signal. It can result in squealing tires orthe front wheels firmly planted in the pedestrian crossing’s painted white fields. Both situations are a little embarrassing in the event that other road users are present. They are not an audience who appreciates one’s appearance. In the worst cases it can end up with another car slapping into the back of one’s car – if the driver was a little inattentive or in the belief that the two of you were playing follow the leader.

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The traffic lights have always been a hotbed of traffic accidents: Vulnerable road users meet the tough, speeds of the involved are different and so are the directions in the intersections. A place that requires extra attention.

The solution has in many places been simple: You have made a roundabout. A circular plant, where several roads meet, and thus a direct replacement of the classic intersection. In both the entrance and exit of the roundabout you turn right. At least in countries with right-hand traffic this is the case, and logically enough, in countries with left-hand traffic, you drive clockwards.

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Police officer Lund became an institution in the Copenhagen street scene, where he in the from his podium in St. Hans Torv in Nørrebro (Copenhagen N) directed traffic with vigour and enthusiasm, as well as quick one-liners to the drivers. Officer Lund was so popular a figure that taxis and other citizens who often crossed the square gave Lund presents at Christmas.

 

It was so not quite done with this, but it proved necessary to make roundabout rules 2.0. Today we have to yield before entering a roundabout, but before we had priority to the right. This resulted in a lot of digestion, as motorists in the roundabout have to hold back for motorists entering. For this reason, traffic planners avoided roundabouts. While a few decades ago the traffic lights were most often selected to regulate traffic on the intersecting roads in Denmark, they today build several roundabouts. One of the benefits of roundabouts is that drivers turning left, release easier through a roundabout than a left turn in an traditional intersection. The speed of all motorists have to be adapted to the curvature, and is therefore significantly lower than in a traditional intersection, together with the fact that all cars are driving in the same direction, contributes to a significantly reduced stress factor in a roundabout.

In 2010 the number of roundabouts were counted to a tally of 1,450, and in 332 cases they were actual conversions from traditional traffic light junction. They also made statistics of what is so finely call effect. The overall figures showed that accidents decreased in number and became less severe. The number of accidents and injuries have decreased by 27% and 60%.

So even though I am among those who believe that the intersection is cozier and originally was a natural place to meet – a roundabout is efficient, rational and thus creepy – it’s probably really something romantic hogwash, but the statistics speak for themselves: we need some more roundabouts. And we will get them too. It looks great in accident statistics, and there are some indications that it actually reduces travel time. Some even claim that in the long term it improves fuel economy, but I haven’t been able to find anything factual about it.

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On one of my BossaNova trips through Western France, precisely on the road between Le Mans in the north and Pau in the south of the Pyrenees, I was tremendously surprised by the number of roundabouts. The frequency of them was so high that it completely destroyed the driving rhythm, and I earnestly began to see them as one of Satan’s inventions. Many of the areas on the route were deserted, so the roundabouts were frankly mightily bored, and then I came along trying to traverse them loosing much speed. With a little practice it honestly went well in many places, while others had angles and curves so perfectly constructed that one almost forcefully had to bring down the speed significantly to get through.

I did not have to be surprised at the number of roundabouts in France. Had I done my homework, then I would have known that France has half – that’s right – half of all the world’s roundabouts (in 2008 figures). In France, they can now count the number to more than 30,000 roundabouts! Satan has left its circle of life in the republic, one might say, but all in the spirit of the good cause.

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Thus on the basis of facts much infinitely good can be said about roundabouts. And do not forget that the roundabouts also allows for setup of art, flowers installations and patriotic propaganda of both aesthetic and informative nature. It is said, however, that many people have it a little difficult with roundabouts. A driving instructor told me that many of his students consider it the biggest challenge. They think that being in a roundabout is like being stuck on a rotating carousel.

Speaking of France, so knows all those who have tried the mother of all roundabouts, the one around the Arc de Triomphe, the feeling of the aforementioned carousel. It is not for children and a thoroughly intoxicating adrenaline reaction. I am, however, by now both skilled and addicted to the challenge of L’Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, so I always take three rounds, when I’m there. However, I always just breathe out a little with a little quiet ride on one of the smaller exit roads afterwards.

L’arc de triomphe du Carrousel 1921

L’arc de triomphe du Carrousel 1921

I also have a favorite roundabout in Denmark which also tolerates an extra lap in the car. It is one of my local roundabouts and it’s called Femvejen (Five roads, ed.). It is situated close to Bernstorffsparken outside Copenhagen and instituted in 1908 as a tram loop for the line 15. Femvejen is the focal point for the five roads: Jægersborg Alle, Fortunvej, Vilvordevej, Ordrupvej and Bernstorffsvej.

The roundabout Femvejen when it was in the service of the tram line.

The roundabout Femvejen when it was in the service of the tram line.

The roundabout is located right on Jægersborg Alle, which thus has both an eastern and western part, meeting in Femvejen. There is therefore in reality six road segments, which meet in Femvejen. Here the middle area of the roundabout has also been used for a monument, for here is an obelisk, which in 1913 was erected in honor of the king. We who are using the roundabout daily easily overlook the monument hence an extra lap can be taken at regular intervals to ensure that the monument be seen and valued.

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Femvejen today

Do you have a roundabout you enjoy, and deserve an extra lap? Or do you belong to those who think it is a traffic solution that belongs in the industrial zones? And are you really afraid of roundabouts?

Translation: Christian Bartels

About The Author

Søren Navntoft

All cars are lovable. Especially if they are Italian or French. I prefer them kept original, showing as few changes as possible. Sherry, a good cup of coffee and the sound of Miles Davis is the good life. Søren's keeper is a 1969 Alfa Romeo 1750 GTV - but he continually flirts with French connections such as DS, 2CV and R4.

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