Traffic circles, or roundabouts – the jury seems to be out as to what to call which. Perhaps the naming rules are different in different places. At any rate, what we call traffic circles have been popping up all over the Vancouver area. And by ‘popping up’, I mean around 10 to 15 years ago. So … you’d think we would’ve figured them out by now, right?
If you can handle a four way stop, you can handle a traffic circle.
A four way stop, as you probably know, works like this. Everyone stops (ahem, hey bicycle riders? Everyone includes you too). The first vehicle to reach the intersection has right of way (after pedestrians of course … ahem, again, bike riders). Then you take turns. I think just about everyone who drives knows how to handle these.
At a traffic circle, it’s just about the same, except there’s a circular garden in the middle, maybe some nice art work, and you treat it like a giant yield sign is hanging over it. The vehicles already in the intersection (be they cars or bikes or scooters or unicycles) have right of way. So it’s the same. You go into it and stay to the right, duh, just like you do any other time on the roads. Even if you are turning left – you drive all the way around. Car drivers for the most part have this down pat, but bikers? I guess the thought is, Hey, I’m small and speedy, I can deek through! No.
I really like traffic circles. If everyone behaves themselves, I do think that they make life safer, especially for bike riders. There are fewer head-on collisions, and they’re easier on bike riders, eliminating the, It’s so hard to stop and get started again, argument for not stopping at intersections.
Now, before bike riders get all up in arms about how I’m picking on them, please note … I rode my bike to work today. That’s 21 km, each way. Yay me! I’m not certain I’ll be able to walk tomorrow. And maybe I’m being a little hypocritical about stop-sign intersection behaviour (but I do at least always slow down, and if there’s traffic coming I stop!). But I saw some appalling behaviour on the part of both drivers and bike riders.
Drivers and bike riders alike, please learn hand signals. Stopping, turning left, turning right. Also, taking the lane. It’s pretty obvious – the bike rider jabs his or her hand at an angle towards the lane they’re moving into the middle of … and yes, cyclists have the right to take a lane. In many cases it’s safer to do so. It’s nearly as dangerous to give someone right of way that isn’t theirs, as it is to take it when it’s not yours. Drivers, when a cyclist is standing with both feet on the ground and hands nowhere near the handle bars, it means, “GO! You have right of way. GO GO GO.” And people, I’m begging you. Traffic circles are easy and intuitive, and we’ve had them for a long time now. Figure them out!