The Magic Roundabout

Here’s an interesting “behind the scenes” look at how this website works. You see, I meant to write the following post several months ago. However, something or the other happened, and I just never got around to it. In fact, I had completely forgotten about it altogether for several months.. until this past weekend. I was in Atlanta for the Thanksgiving holiday, and my parents suggested that we all go to the neighborhood IHOP for breakfast on our way back to Charlotte. Lisa and I agreed, and so I was driving Lisa’s Jeep and following my parents to the nearest IHOP. We suddenly came across something rare in the metro Atlanta area: a roundabout!

For those of you that have never been to the England – either “old England” or America’s “New England” – a roundabout is a circular intersection. You’ve probably seen them on TV or in the movies – especially National Lampoon’s European Vacation: “Look kids… Parliament… Big Ben!” Roundabouts are superior to the traditional “red light” intersection in many ways: they don’t require electricity, so they work exactly the same if there’s a power failure; they can handle a much larger amount of traffic than a traditional intersection; and they’re statistically much safer than red lights (unless you’re on a bicycle). In fact, roundabouts are superior to red lights in almost every way. It makes one wonder if the only reason America doesn’t use them more is a lack of familiarity. But even if you’re familiar with roundabouts, you probably haven’t seen one like this:

Magic Roundabout

This is the legendary “Magic Roundabout” in Swindon, Wiltshire, in southwest England. There are other “magic roundabouts” in the UK these days, but Swindon’s was the first, dating back to 1972. It’s a 5-point intersection containing 5 “mini-roundabouts” within one large roundabout. Although it looks insanely complex at first, it’s really quite simple. Traffic in the “outer ring” moves clockwise, while traffic in the “inner ring” moves counter-clockwise. At any point, you can circle around one of the “mini roundabouts” and move in the opposite direction. Here’s a diagram:

Magic Roundabout (diagram)

Let’s say that you’re approaching the roundabout from the southwest corner (that is, the road on the bottom left of the diagram). You want to take the road at the bottom right corner of the diagram. If you’re a tourist, you simply enter the roundabout and go almost all the way around the circle and take the road. If you’re a Swindonian (or a fearless driver), you might choose instead to enter the roundabout, then turn around at the first available roundabout (at about 9 o’clock in the diagram), then circle around the second roundabout (at about 5 o’clock) and make the turn.

Despite being one of the most complicated road designs ever, the Magic Roundabout has produced only 14 serious accidents and just over a hundred lesser ones in over 30 years – and in the face of ever-increasing traffic at the intersection, too. The Magic Roundabout even has a song about it – “English Roundabout” by world-famous Swindon group XTC!

Read more about the Magic Roundabout at SwindonWeb or Wikipedia.

One Reply to “The Magic Roundabout”

  1. I’m traveling in England in October and renting an RV so I’m especially nervous about driving and handling the roundabouts. I’ve done them before and understand them, but in your diagram and explanation above, you say “…then turn around at the first available roundabout (at about 9 o’clock in the diagram), then circle around the second roundabout (at about 5 o’clock) and make the turn.” Why wouldn’t you just make the turn at the 5 o’clock roundabout rather than go up to the 9 o’clock and come back?

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