Here's some comments about the Globe story by one of Boston's more
active bicycle advocates.
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: Fwd: Boston Globe--Roundabouts
Date: Wed, 06 Oct 1999 10:40:34 -0400
From: Tom Revay <[log in to unmask]>
To: Craig Della Penna <[log in to unmask]>, [log in to unmask]
At 02:21 PM 10/5/99 -0400, Craig Della Penna wrote:
>This story ran on page C08 of the Boston Globe on 10/03/99.
>© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.
>A concept comes full circle
>By Beth Carney, Globe Staff, 10/03/99
>RATTLEBORO [sic], Vt. - There was a time, almost a century ago, when the
>traffic circle wasconsidered an innovation, not a near-death experience.
> In 1904, New York businessman William Phelps Eno designed this
>country's first real rotary around New York City's Columbus Circle. With
>everyone moving in the same direction, Eno thought, the traffic would
>flow better. The design quickly caught on, especially in the Northeast,
>and engineers laid down hundreds of rotaries.
> But as more cars filled the roads, Eno's great innovation became a
>highway planner's nightmare. Instead of traffic flowing smoothly, there
>were drivers stuck waiting on ramps, cars whizzing around the circle,
>streams of traffic stalling at one point.
> By the 1960s, the traffic circles had become vicious circles, notorious
>for backups and accidents. In the United States engineers started
>tearing them down.
> Now, though, there is a new group of enthusiasts who are trying to
>bring the circular intersection back. The advocates are pushing a new
>kind of circle - which they call a ''modern roundabout,'' and insist are
>smaller and safer than their treacherous forebears.
This is essentially correct. According to "100 YEARS OF ROAD SAFETY" by
Gerald Cummins, the first "roundabouts" in England were developed in the
1920's. Says Cummins:
The first roundabouts ... were based on the work of an American
traffic specialist, William Phelps Eno, on traffic movements at
junctions. They may in part have been suggested by existing
circular road layouts as at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The idea
lent itself to city squares (eg Sloane Square), and it was not long
before "true" roundabouts with central islands were being built....
variant was to impose one-way movement on a set of roads at a
complex junction and effectively create a roundabout. This was
done at Hyde Park Corner in 1927, where it was called a 'gyratory
"Gyratories" are a Britishism that describes either big rotaries, or a
block of one-way streets designed to function as an extended rotary.
of the large rotaries in New England would be called gyratories in the
On the other hand, the British "roundabout" is more likely to be applied
much smaller traffic structures. Consider this statement by the great
Scottish comedian, Billy Connally, giving the BBC News for Scotland:
"The circus huz arrived in Glasgie, an' mooved thra the city last nacht,
layvin' buhind a great pyle a' ellyphant shit in Suchyhall Street.
Mo'trists are advized ta trate it as a roinda-byte!"
And in the UK, it's gyratories that get the criticisms that are applied
The Hangar Lane Gyratory System is, despite its fancy name, simply a
roundabout. It entangles the North Circular Road with the A40, the major
road heading due west out of London.
The Gyratory System is poignant because soon after it opened in the late
70s, the designers admitted that they had made a mistake and it would
work. God knows how you can mistake either of those two roads or which
directions they go in.
The result in 1995 is this: a roundabout which is designed to avoid a
traffic light snarl-up is now controlled by a carousel of traffic
Say you want to turn right: you may have to wait at four red lights as
gyrate. This is instead of the one traffic light the System replaced.
Gyratory System regularly achieves gridlock, which is excellent
that all the through traffic on the A40 passes under it via a tunnel.
Conceiveably, the block of Boylston, Charles, Beacon and Arlington
around the Boston Public Garden could be considered a British-style
gyratory, though the many intersections, split roads, and traffic lights
there cause the four not to function as a unified whole.
Leverett Circle in Boston is loaded with traffic lights in a manner
to Hangar Lane, and apparently suffers the same kinds of problems. As
someone who cycles Cambridge Street, Charles Street and the Longfellow
Bridge as corridors to and from Downtown Boston and Cambridge, I can
appreciate the Hangar Road problems.
Gyratories are a big problem for pedestrians, too. The massive traffic
circle in front of the Arnold Arboretum on the Arborway in Jamaica Plain
a significant blockage for residents who would like to enter the
from Centre Street in JP on foot, as well as anyone walking from Jamaica
Pond through the Emerald Necklace chain of parks.
But small roundabouts that force drivers to slow as they turn sharply
(with the UK driving on the left, remember), and move through a tight
circle in a single lane are useful traffic speed control devices in
Britain. They're easier to walk across than gyratories, and provided
traffic lane stays the same size as it passes through, they're not as
dangerous to cyclists as are neck downs and "bulb outs" that supposedly
work by making the traffic lane narrow. (Cyclists riding on
narrowed roads participate in this effort by being forced in front of
speeding cars, thereby assisting in the Human Speed Bump traffic calming
What's being described in the article Craig posted seems to be this kind
mini-roundabout -- and that's good, I believe. However, I'm made more
skeptical of its success when I read this:
> In Brattleboro, the state's most ambitious roundabout, a nearly
>completed two-lane circle connecting well-traveled truck routes off
>Interstate 91, is awaiting landscaping and other final touches. There
>are plans in various stages for a dozen more.
> ''The state of Vermont took a leap of faith with this,'' said Shane
>O'Keefe, Brattleboro planner.
Indeed. The kind of thing I was thinking of was a small, tight-turning
rotary intersection that connected residental streets, not intersecting
routes intended for large vehicle traffic. I'd like to see what's
being installed in Brattleboro. But the ideal -- a forced tight right
around a central structure -- doesn't seem likely on the kind of
thoroughfare described here.
Perhaps if we just send a circus down these roads, every so often ...
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