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Pedestrians Crossing Signs at Roundabouts: Ensuring the Safety of Foot Traffic

Roundabouts have helped to promote traffic safety since they were first used over a century ago.  Yet, while they have reduced the frequency and severity of vehicle crashes, they have been less successful at safeguarding people on foot.  To meet this challenge, safety officials are using pedestrian crossing signs to direct walkers away from the circular portions of roundabouts, where they are at greatest risk of being struck by automobiles.


This article will provide a brief review of roundabout history, the primary benefits of roundabouts for motorists, and, lastly, examine ways to extend their safety-enhancing effects to pedestrians.  As persons on foot make up an increasingly large percentage of the traffic in most urban areas, the time to take their needs into consideration when designing roads is now.  Creating safer conditions for those who choose to walk rather than drive will reduce pollution and promote public health, two goals that are well worth pursuing.


The History of Roundabouts

The use of circular junctions to direct traffic began with the construction of the Columbus Circle in New York City in 1904.  The British followed suit by building similar junctions in Letchworth Garden City in 1909.  Originally intended as safe havens for pedestrians, their traffic calming functions soon became apparent, and their use began to multiply.


The roundabout as it is known today first emerged in the 1960s, when the rule that vehicles must yield to oncoming cars was adopted internationally.  Traffic engineers and safety officials noticed how effective the intersections were at reducing vehicular crashes, particularly the so-called “T-bone” and perpendicular wrecks that are the most dangerous types in terms of injuries and death.


Ironically, the country that first adopted roundabouts, the U.S., was the most resistant to their widespread use.  Nonetheless, during the 1990s, the junctions became common sights in most municipalities.  As of 2011, there were some 3,000 roundabouts in the States.  In contrast, France had more then 30,000, despite being much smaller.


Benefits of Roundabouts

As mentioned before, roundabouts are effective traffic calmers.  They also have other desirable features, such as the following:

  • They’re far safer than conventional, signal-controlled junctions.  Crashes are far less likely at roundabouts, but, when they do happen, they occur at lower speeds and at slighter angles.  This greatly reduces the resulting property damage, injury, and loss of life from wrecks
  • Roundabouts reduce delays and congestion, since vehicles do not have to come to a full stop before proceeding (except in cases where they must yield).
  • Traffic flows more naturally at roundabouts than at signal-controlled junctions.  Drivers are not controlled by an artificial traffic signal.
  • The circle of land within a roundabout makes an ideal spot for a monument or other public decoration (though the choice of what types of decorations to use should be guided by concerns for public safety, as will be discussed momentarily).


Issues with Pedestrian Use of Roundabouts

One of the key limitations of roundabouts is that they have insufficient safeguards and/ or pedestrian crossing signs to protect local foot traffic.  This is due to the vehicle-centric approach that spurred their invention.  This issue is normally dealt with in two ways:

  1. By not placing benches, fountains, or similar items in the centers of roundabouts.  While attractive, such decorations would induce pedestrians to visit them.  The central portion of the junction is not a park, and it should never be made to resemble one.  Statues, works of art, and ornamental trees are fine for use in these areas, but should be surrounded by fencing or other impediments to curious pedestrians.
  2. By routing foot and bicycle traffic away from the roundabout with crosswalks marked by traffic safety systems, such as signage and caution lights.  These measures prevent foot traffic from crossing at unauthorized locations, while also making drivers more alert to the presence of walkers.


Installing marked crosswalks at roundabouts is imperative to the safety of drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians.  With due caution and planning, all citizens can use public routes safely.