Let’s talk roundabouts….

Written by Jesse Wilkinson

Let’s talk about roundabouts.

I’ll admit, I have fairly limited experience with them.  As a child I was very fascinated with the one at St Jacobs.  At 19, I backpacked through Europe and found them everywhere; I almost got killed at the Arc de Triumphe roundabout in Paris (see below), which is one of the biggest in the world (that’s what she said – still cool?)


And, in the last few years, I’ve watched them pop up like Wal Marts on highway 26 in Ontario, which is a route I drive almost weekly.

Now the other day, as I approached one of these nascent architectural constructs, I did so with the understanding that I yield to the cars in the roundabout.  That is how it’s supposed to work: all cars can continue to move in order to prevent stopping.  But sometimes the car entering must slow to a stop if there is a car coming around.  In this case there was, so I stopped.  And then she stopped, this lovely old lady.  She stopped in the middle roundabout!  I motioned her to go ahead, fearing a car coming around the bend at some speed and smashing into her (a fairly common event, apparently) and she waved to thank me and she kept on going.  It was then that slapped my forehead and shook my head.

I mean this lady was so sweet, but she just didn’t understand how to drive through this damn thing!  But how could she?  There aren’t really any instructional manuals or even any of those commercials that warn us against drinking and texting and all the bad stuff.  How about an ad on how to drive through a roundabout, so we can curb some of these accidents? (did you catch that pun?)

So I couldn’t really get mad at this old woman; she has probably spent her whole life using stoplights and stop signs.  And I make a habit of never getting mad at the elderly since I just imagine that it could be my grandmother!  But my grandmother grew up in England and knows how to use roundabouts, so maybe I’ll make an exception for these cases.

Maybe it’s time to start getting mad at people who can’t seem to figure these things out – I mean they’ve had a few years now to get it down.  There won’t be any excuses soon.  Or is it just something hardwired into the North American brain that finds circles confusing but straight, intersecting lines comprehendible?

Is there something geometric about it?
Europeans = curves, circles, sensible
North Americans = straight, square, stubborn.

To be clear, I love these damn curvaceous roadways; they are good for everyone, if everyone could just understand how to use the damn things.  I say put them everywhere, put them in cities, in parking lots, at four-way stops in the middle of nowhere…..wait a minute, I just had a thought.  If roundabouts replace all the rural crossroads, there wouldn’t be a place for musicians to go and sell their soul to the devil.  I mean imagine if Robert Johnson went down to the crossroads to sell his soul and find a roundabout there?  It doesn’t quite have the same mystique attached.

Let’s test this out a little.  Listen to the classic Cream song and see if you’d be ok with Clapton singing, “I went down to the [roundabout] and fell down to my knees”.



Nope, it doesn’t work.  Scratch my whole argument….ban all the roundabouts; keep the crossroads.  We need the Robert Johnsons, Eric Claptons, and Bob Dylans much more than we need sensible intersections.

Plus, it’ll keep the old lady drivers from getting us all killed.



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Jesse Wilkinson

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