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Roundabouts: History

It all began around 1905...

Traffic circles have been part of the transportation system in the United States since 1905, when the Columbus Circle designed by William Phelps Eno opened in New York City.   Subsequently, many large circles or rotaries were built in Canada and the United States.  The prevailing designs enabled high-speed merging and weaving of vehicles. Priority was given to entering vehicles, facilitating high-speed entries.  High crash experience and congestion in the circles led to rotaries falling out of favor in North America after the mid-1950's.  Internationally, the experience with traffic circles was equally negative, with many countries experiencing circles that locked up as traffic volumes increased.

Changes in the United Kingdom created the modern roundabout...

The modern roundabout was developed in the United Kingdom to rectify problems associated with these traffic circles. In 1966, the United Kingdom adopted a mandatory "give-way" rule at all circular intersections, which required entering traffic to give way, or yield, to circulating traffic.  This rule prevented circular intersections from locking up, by not allowing vehicles to enter the intersection until there were sufficient gaps in circulating traffic.  In addition, smaller circular intersections were proposed that had greater deflection of vehicle paths to achieve slower entry and circulating speeds.

Modern roundabouts have improved traffic safety and traffic operations over older circles...

These changes improved the safety characteristics of the circular intersections by reducing the number and particularly the severity of collisions.  Thus, the resultant modern roundabout is significantly different from the older traffic circle both in how it operates and in how it is designed.  The modern roundabout represents a substantial improvement, in terms of operations and safety, when compared with older rotaries and traffic circles.  Therefore, many countries have adopted them as a common intersection form and some have developed extensive design guides and methods to evaluate the performance of modern roundabouts.

References:
Federal Highway Administration, Roundabouts: An Informational Guide, Report No. FHWA-RD-00-067, June 2000. You are leaving the City of Scottsdale website.


Questions about roundabouts?
Contact Traffic Engineering at 480-312-7696
or email roundabouts@scottsdaleaz.gov