I've just returned from the preview drive of Mercedes' brilliant new E-Class Convertible on the island of Majorca, off the coast of Spain. The best part of the junket? Sunshine? Spanish wine? Tapas? No, actually it was the traffic circles.
I have an obsession with these wonderful, circular conveyances and, speaking more broadly, the overall European mentally of dealing with traffic: In Canada we're all about breaking up traffic into awkward chunks that lurch from light-to-light. Across the pond, it’s all about flow. There seems to be a superb mindset that unless it’s to quell speed, vehicles should just keep moving.
It’s an approach that could do wonders for our urban sprawl-infested country. Take the neighbourhood I live in: a large-scale development with easily 500 homes. As expected there’s a myriad of four-way stops littered throughout. The thing is, 9 times out of ten times you role up to one of these intersections and you’re the only vehicle on the scene. Why stop then? It’s time-consuming, puts wear and tear on your car, reduces fuel efficiency and the neighbours have to listen to vehicles idle and throttle away ad nauseum.
I’d like to see a major push here at home for the installation of small-scale traffic circles. Initially, any existing residential intersection can be modified into one with a couple day’s-worth of curb work, a small, painted circle dead centre and some new signage. It would certainly make my 7-stop sign journey out of the ‘hood much quicker and enjoyable.
But, alas, traffic circles may not function as well in Canada as they do overseas. If you’ve logged long hours on our highways and byways, you know the downright ineptitude of some drivers. Left lane bandits, excessive speeding, improper lane changes; the list goes on. I’m not saying these things don’t happen in EU nations, but you’d have a tough time convincing me Europeans are not more tuned into and respectful of the rules of the road. (Doubters need just stand on the corner of one of the twelve roads leading into the manic Place de l'Étoile traffic circle in Paris for proof - scads in and scads out, with usual not one dented fender).
The city of Hamilton, Ontario has been notably tenacious in its installation of traffic circle, with about half a dozen in place and more to follow. The city says: “The number of roundabouts constructed in Canada is relatively small. Those that are currently in operation have been reported to be performing favourably, when compared with conventional controlled intersections (i.e., stop signs or signals), in terms of improved safety, shorter delays, increased capacity, and improved aesthetics. “
Perhaps most important stat from Hamilton’s report is that, “Roundabouts have been shown to reduce fatal and injury accidents as much as 75 percent.” How can we argue with that?