Roundabouts. They are all the rage right now and a fitting reflection of a society bent on hurry and relentless action.
But how effective are they in meeting stated goals? There are easily traversed ones — such as the one on Blackmarsh Road/Captain Whelan Drive (the recent punch up there between two drivers notwithstanding) — and those not for the faint of heart — such as the two in close proximity to Danny Drive (home of the new Costco omelette) and the bizarre war zone replication on Rawlin’s Cross.
My point in writing, however, is not to criticize the concept but to simply ask how are we to know if particular ones are as safe, efficient and effective as proclaimed?
What are the factors and the corroborative evidence necessary to reach such a conclusion? Hopefully, it is more than just less vehicle accidents at such intersections.
It has been apparent to me for a while that roundabouts might be safer from an accident prevention perspective simply due to the significantly increased danger they present over traditional traffic lights.
Allow me to explain this counter intuitive assertion.
When approaching roundabouts you are often entering an unknown asteroid field-like free-for-all. You must be extremely alert and have the ability to make split second decisions based on a host of quickly changing factors.
Are there pedestrians or cyclists who have the right of way?
Do vehicles coming in the opposite directions have yield signs (which you can only determine by a quick glance to find a triangular backwards “yield” shape) and are they slowing in obedience to the sign or speeding up to get through as drivers often do with amber lights?
While taking all this into account you must also pay attention to those travelling parallel to you and hoping they are interpreting the tarmac printed squiggly hieroglyphics (such as those near Danny Drive) the same as you are. And you must pay attention to your rear view mirror as any hesitation that may lead to slowing down could result in you being rear ended.
Some drivers will undoubtedly avoid roundabouts altogether and that fact combined with the heightened degree of alertness associated with the inherent danger might actually lead to them being statistically safer than their traffic-light forbears.
There’s less likelihood of sipping coffee, changing radio stations, checking makeup in the mirror, etc. when your heart is in your throat. Merry-go-rounds without the advantage of automated precision.
It’s been said that there are big lies, little lies and statistics and so let’s not put too much faith in strict numbers.
When accidents occur in roundabouts let's also look at changes in the severity of inflicted injuries, impact on insurance claims, police investigative time, traffic-flow interruptions as well as determining blame, among other considerations.
Let’s hope that city councillors take input from various sources including the public and leave their egos out of the equation when contemplating roundabouts, especially in long-established neighbourhoods.
A good and expensive reminder of not making the right decision is the recent fence fiasco on Signal Hill.
Let the evidence determine whether changes are required so that we do not fix that which is not broken.