Friday, April 23, 2010

I can't get left!

I was thinking about roundabouts (rotaries on the Continent) and why we don't have them in the US.

Roundabouts are unquestionably more efficient at moving traffic than stop signs, and generally more efficient than stop lights for most intersections. It does not make sense to stop when you are the only car at an intersection, and yet that is what we do in America. Almost everywhere else, especially where gas is expensive, they use roundabouts, even for very small intersections. I have seen roundabouts in the UK on an old narrow lane. The roundabout's center was barely larger than a Bott dot.

The reason I am now so sensitive to this is that I travel more miles on my bicycle each week than I do in my car. Coming to a stop and then getting up to speed again is a huge waste of energy. In your car, it just makes your right foot a bit tired and your pocketbook lighter (and the sky browner). On a bike, you have a literal seat of the pants feel for energy usage. It takes a little bit of effort to squeeze the brakes and come to a stop, and a lot of effort to get going again. If you feel your rims after coming to a stop, they are warm, because the energy of your forward motion has been converted to waste heat. The same thing happens in your car. So, you warm the planet coming to a stop, and then warm it some more burning fuel to get going again.

So why do we have so many stop signs, and almost no roundabouts? I think I have seen only a handful of roundabouts in the US. Three are in Beaver Creek after a recent roadway redesign. US drivers seem confused by them. That is not surprising...more than half of US drivers manage to be below average drivers. The standards for getting a driving license here are lower than in other developed countries.

I would have thought that in newer housing developments, they would put in roundabouts because they are more attractive, greener (literally and figuratively) and seem Euro and sophisticated. And I would be wrong.

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