Modern roundabouts differ from most of the older style traffic circles some of us have encountered in that, in most cases, there are no stop signs or traffic lights to restrict traffic flow. Instead, the typical design is that traffic entering the roundabout is supposed to yield to traffic already in the roundabout, travel around the circle, then exit by right turn at their desired road.
|A traffic roundabout in Akron, Ohio - once known as the rubber city,|
and still the home of Goodyear Tire and Rubber.
That's great for cars, but what does that mean for cyclists? A collision that constitutes a "fender bender" in a car can still mean broken bones or even death for a cyclist. And I've read several studies that show a high rate of injuries for cyclists in roundabouts, even as the rates for drivers have fallen.
I don't know if I'm necessarily the absolute best authority on how to navigate traffic roundabouts, but I do have pretty regular experience with them and can give some tips for other cyclists.
One of the first things to remember is something I've already mentioned -- most drivers are CLUELESS about how to handle the roundabout - and clueless drivers are a major threat to themselves and other road users, but especially to cyclists. That means that YOU as the cyclist have to be the adult in the situation. Expect drivers to fail to yield. Expect them to not see you. Expect them to ignore your rights. Expect them to ignore your very existence. Ride accordingly. Once you come to grips with all of that, you are ready to approach the roundabout.
Next, it's helpful to understand some of the more common types of collisions between drivers and cyclists that occur in roundabouts. All three of these scenarios can be scary -- but the threat can be reduced considerably by doing these things: Be Assertive. Take the Lane. Signal your intent.
One of the more common collisions is what in a "normal" intersection would be called a "right-hook" scenario. The driver passes the cyclist either in the approach to the roundabout, or perhaps in the roundabout itself -- then they exit the roundabout, either turning right into, or directly in front of the cyclist. Remember that to most drivers, once they pass a cyclist and he is no longer in their forward view, that cyclist ceases to exist, even if he is still directly outside the driver's passenger side (or worse, in the so-called blind spot).
Another common collision stems from drivers who simply fail to yield when entering the roundabout, hitting a cyclist who is already traveling in the circle. Often, the driver is looking past the cyclist, looking for cars that might be approaching from their left side.
|Going right, straight, or continuing around the circle for a left turn can mean choosing the correct lane. The same basic principles apply, but if at all possible it's generally best to be in the proper lane before entering the roundabout. If a multi-lane roundabout is really dodgy, with a lot of traffic moving too fast for comfort, one does usually have the option to dismount and cross on foot at the crosswalks. As a cyclist that can feel humiliating, but one needs to do what they're most comfortable with. (graphics from wsdot)|
In those various scenarios, I mention having some evasive maneuvers or escape plans -- again, when riding with traffic, it's often necessary to be prepared like that, but I don't think it's any more likely in roundabouts than in other types of intersections. I wouldn't want to leave readers with the impression that it's any more dangerous in the roundabout. And keep in mind that I encounter a couple of these types of intersections every day on my commute to work, and I've never had to take drastic evasive steps. The good news is that in most cases, if you are assertive, take the lane, and signal your intent, you can minimize a lot of the potential dangers to the point that roundabouts might actually live up to the promises of improved safety -- for cyclists as well as drivers.