The kind of thing you most definetly do not want to encounter whilst driving.

Increasingly being installed where three or more roads converge, and traffic lights would be impractical. The idea is that you yield to traffic already on the roundabout; those to your right have priority.

But the problem arises when you want to take the last exit from the roundabout, in which case you're suppoed to move right in, next to the island, and then move back out when you reach your exit.

It really doesn't help when you stall at the entrance to one, either. (I tend to do that repeatedly).

The most straightforward, simple and commonsense thing to arrive on the road since the cats eye.

This simple idea is loathed and derided by all who rarely encounter them (mainly merkins).

seanni, below, offers the best imaginable writeup on roundabouts. I can only add that in France priority is bizzarely given to those joining the roundabout rather than those already on it.

Roundabouts are a means of traffic control at road junctions. They are an alternative to stop signs or traffic lights and are commonly used in European countries. A roundabout takes the form of a circular island occupying the centre of an intersection.

In Britain, vehicles approaching the roundabout are required to reduce speed and yield to traffic already travelling around the roundabout. Vehicles travelling around the roundabout circulate in a clockwise direction, leaving the roundabout at the required exit. The idea behind roundabouts is to ease the flow of traffic. Depending on traffic density and the size of surrounding roads, roundabouts can have single or multiple traffic lanes. In the latter case, lane control is vital to avoid collisions.

Roundabouts at busy junctions sometimes have traffic lights installed at it's entrances or even around the roundabout itself in order to regulate traffic flow. These traffic lights normally operate at peak periods only. This almost seems like an admission of defeat.

I am driving along with my (now ex-)girlfriend. She has just returned to the US from a year long stay in her home country, New Zealand. We're on our way back from a fancy restaurant: it is late, and there is hardly anyone on the streets.

We approach a rotary and without hesitation, she makes a smooth clockwise turn. Without even blinking her eyes, she continues the trip. I look towards an oncoming car, and I can see the white in the eyes of the driver. He is as astonished and frightened as I am.

The following day, I tell this frightening experience to my friend S. I never have to explain him much; half a sentence is usually enough for the whole story:

me: "So we were approaching the roundabout..."
S.: "You know that's a very British term, don't you?"
me: "Well, we took it very British"

That same fear and astonishment I saw in the eyes of the oncoming driver, I can see in S.'s eyes.

One thing to realize is that roundabouts and traffic circles (also called diverters and rotaries) are not the same thing.

The roundabout was invented in England in 1966 and is used all over Europe, Asia and Australia to great effect. For many Americans, it epitomizes European driving. The traffic circle is much older, dating to late 19th century USA (although some claim it was a French invention) and is most commonly found in North America, being a widely maligned and hated mechanism.

So what are the differences? There are 2 primary differences. A traffic circle is designed to allow traffic through as fast as possible. Meaning that approaches and exits are kept as straight lines. This means that traffic through them is very fast and very dangerous. Whereas with a roundabout, curves are expressly added at the entrance points, to ensure that traffic slows down. This promotes a much saner, and safer, progression through the intersection. Also, a traffic circle has no special provisions to force right of way. Sometimes traffic lights are added at entry points, which just frustrates drivers (although to be honest, some roundabouts employ these as well). Sometimes one road will always have the right of way, while others will have stop signs, which just engenders confusion, as well as meaning that cars on side roads may have to wait for unreasonable lengths of time before being able to progress through the intersection. And all too often, no signage at all is employed, meaning that the standard rule of "yield to the right" takes precedence. In countries where driving is on the right, this is disastrous, as it means traffic entering the circle has precedence over traffic already in the circle. A quick pencil and paper analysis will show that this ensures gridlock if the roads are at all busy.

In a roundabout, cars in the circle always have right of way over cars entering.

The traffic circle was originally called by the unwieldy term gyratory circle until the 1920's, when an American named Logan Pearsall Smith, who was on the BBC Advisory Committee on Spoken English, suggested the replacement "roundabout". The name change caught on pretty much everywhere that English is spoken, except North America, which preferred some of the terms mentioned above. They were popular on both sides of the Atlantic, with great concentrations of them in New England, until the 1950's, when the ever-increasing volumes of traffic made them both very cumbersome and dangerous. American engineers began the process of removing them, preferring traffic lights and four way stops instead.

In Europe, rather than remove them, civil engineers sought to improve them. Cumulative suggestions and improvements were applied to existing roundabouts until in 1966, the Transport Research Laboratory in Berkshire, England came up with a concise set of guidelines for roundabouts in England. Among the revised standards were:
    - Yield sign for entering vehicles.
    - Vehicles in the roundabout have priority over the entering vehicle.
    - Use deflection to maintain low speed operation through roundabout.
    - No parking is allowed on the circulating roadway.
    - No pedestrian activities take place on the central island.
    - No at-grade carriageways through the central island.
    - Splitter island for entering roadways.

While not all roundabouts follow these standards to the letter (specifically, the last one suffers from arbitrary use), they were in theory adopted by the British government for all roundabouts in the country. Other countries around the world started adopting these same (or similar) guides, and modifying their roundabouts to adhere to them.

Numerous studies have shown that the newer style allows for higher traffic volumes more efficiently and safely than even the traffic light, and so they are starting to be re-adopted in North America. Progress is slow, especially in places like New England, where the ubiquitous old-style traffic circles garnered the most enemies, but it is happening. Colorado seems to be taking the lead in installing the most, and best, roundabouts in recent years. Colorado also employs impressive signage, even better than European signs, indicating well in advance which lanes cars should be in to leave at the proper exit. This is not much of an issue for drivers who are familiar with the way a roundabout works, but for many American drivers (who are not), it alleviates the biggest source of frustration and confusion relating to the roundabouts.

The biggest flaw of roundabouts is that they are rather unfriendly to pedestrians and cyclists, who often have a long way to go around them, and may have to contend with unreasonably fast traffic leaving the intersection.
In Britain (elsewhere?), the roundabout is a children's toy found in parks, made of metal, wood or (less commonly) plastic. Roundabouts are usually just circular plates which spin around 360 degrees about 5cm from the ground.

Usually these have some form of moulded seat on them, useful because these things can get quite fast and a small child would take about three seconds to go whipping off at high speed if not stopped. They are generally fun when drunk, and available at most play parks around the country.

To operate a roundabout, either sit on it and get someone to push it round, or push it round yourself and then hop on. If misjudged, the second technique can be mondo maxima painful.

...chapter three of The Tin Woodman of Oz...previous...next...





Woot the Wanderer slept that night in the tin castle of the Emperor of the Winkies and found his tin bed quite comfortable. Early the next morning he rose and took a walk through the gardens, where there were tin fountains and beds of curious tin flowers, and where tin birds perched upon the branches of tin trees and sang songs that sounded like the notes of tin whistles. All these wonders had been made by the clever Winkie tinsmiths, who wound the birds up every morning so that they would move about and sing.

After breakfast the boy went into the throne room, where the Emperor was having his tin joints carefully oiled by a servant, while other servants were stuffing sweet, fresh straw into the body of the Scarecrow.

Woot watched this operation with much interest, for the Scarecrow's body was only a suit of clothes filled with straw. The coat was buttoned tight to keep the packed straw from falling out and a rope was tied around the waist to hold it in shape and prevent the straw from sagging down. The Scarecrow's head was a gunnysack filled with bran, on which the eyes, nose and mouth had been painted. His hands were white cotton gloves stuffed with fine straw. Woot noticed that even when carefully stuffed and patted into shape, the straw man was awkward in his movements and decidedly wobbly on his feet, so the boy wondered if the Scarecrow would be able to travel with them all the way to the forests of the Munchkin Country of Oz.

The preparations made for this important journey were very simple. A knapsack was filled with food and given Woot the Wanderer to carry upon his back, for the food was for his use alone. The Tin Woodman shouldered an axe which was sharp and brightly polished, and the Scarecrow put the Emperor's oil-can in his pocket, that he might oil his friend's joints should they need it.

"Who will govern the Winkie Country during your absence?" asked the boy.

"Why, the Country will run itself," answered the Emperor. "As a matter of fact, my people do not need an Emperor, for Ozma of Oz watches over the welfare of all her subjects, including the Winkies. Like a good many kings and emperors, I have a grand title, but very little real power, which allows me time to amuse myself in my own way. The people of Oz have but one law to obey, which is: 'Behave Yourself,' so it is easy for them to abide by this Law, and you'll notice they behave very well. But it is time for us to be off, and I am eager to start because I suppose that that poor Munchkin girl is anxiously awaiting my coming."

"She's waited a long time already, seems to me," remarked the Scarecrow, as they left the grounds of the castle and followed a path that led eastward.

"True," replied the Tin Woodman; "but I've noticed that the last end of a wait, however long it has been, is the hardest to endure; so I must try to make Nimmie Amee happy as soon as possible."

"Ah; that proves you have a Kind heart," remarked the Scarecrow, approvingly.

"It's too bad he hasn't a Loving Heart," said Woot. "This Tin Man is going to marry a nice girl through kindness, and not because he loves her, and somehow that doesn't seem quite right."

"Even so, I am not sure it isn't best for the girl," said the Scarecrow, who seemed very intelligent for a straw man, "for a loving husband is not always kind, while a kind husband is sure to make any girl content."

"Nimmie Amee will become an Empress!" announced the Tin Woodman, proudly. "I shall have a tin gown made for her, with tin ruffles and tucks on it, and she shall have tin slippers, and tin earrings and bracelets, and wear a tin crown on her head. I am sure that will delight Nimmie Amee, for all girls are fond of finery."

"Are we going to the Munchkin Country by way of the Emerald City?" inquired the Scarecrow, who looked upon the Tin Woodman as the leader of the party.

"I think not," was the reply. "We are engaged upon a rather delicate adventure, for we are seeking a girl who fears her former lover has forgotten her. It will be rather hard for me, you must admit, when I confess to Nimmie Amee that I have come to marry her because it is my duty to do so, and therefore the fewer witnesses there are to our meeting the better for both of us. After I have found Nimmie Amee and she has managed to control her joy at our reunion, I shall take her to the Emerald City and introduce her to Ozma and Dorothy, and to Betsy Bobbin and Tiny Trot, and all our other friends; but, if I remember rightly, poor Nimmie Amee has a sharp tongue when angry, and she may be a trifle angry with me, at first, because I have been so long in coming to her."

"I can understand that," said Woot gravely. "But how can we get to that part of the Munchkin Country where you once lived without passing through the Emerald City?"

"Why, that is easy," the Tin Man assured him.

"I have a map of Oz in my pocket," persisted the boy, "and it shows that the Winkie Country, where we now are, is at the west of Oz, and the Munchkin Country at the east, while directly between them lies the Emerald City."

"True enough; but we shall go toward the north, first of all, into the Gillikin Country, and so pass around the Emerald City," explained the Tin Woodman.

"That may prove a dangerous journey," replied the boy. "I used to live in one of the top corners of the Gillikin Country, near to Oogaboo, and I have been told that in this northland country are many people whom it is not pleasant to meet. I was very careful to avoid them during my journey south."

"A Wanderer should have no fear," observed the Scarecrow, who was wobbling along in a funny, haphazard manner, but keeping pace with his friends.

"Fear does not make one a coward," returned Woot, growing a little red in the face, "but I believe it is more easy to avoid danger than to overcome it. The safest way is the best way, even for one who is brave and determined."

"Do not worry, for we shall not go far to the north," said the Emperor. "My one idea is to avoid the Emerald City without going out of our way more than is necessary. Once around the Emerald City we will turn south into the Munchkin Country, where the Scarecrow and I are well acquainted and have many friends."

"I have traveled some in the Gillikin Country," remarked the Scarecrow, "and while I must say I have met some strange people there at times, I have never yet been harmed by them."

"Well, it's all the same to me," said Woot, with assumed carelessness. "Dangers, when they cannot be avoided, are often quite interesting, and I am willing to go wherever you two venture to go."

So they left the path they had been following and began to travel toward the northeast, and all that day they were in the pleasant Winkie Country, and all the people they met saluted the Emperor with great respect and wished him good luck on his journey. At night they stopped at a house where they were well entertained and where Woot was given a comfortable bed to sleep in.

"Were the Scarecrow and I alone," said the Tin Woodman, "we would travel by night as well as by day; but with a meat person in our party, we must halt at night to permit him to rest."

"Meat tires, after a day's travel," added the Scarecrow, "while straw and tin never tire at all. Which proves," said he, "that we are somewhat superior to people made in the common way."

Woot could not deny that he was tired, and he slept soundly until morning, when he was given a good breakfast, smoking hot.

"You two miss a great deal by not eating," he said to his companions.

"It is true," responded the Scarecrow. "We miss suffering from hunger, when food cannot be had, and we miss a stomachache, now and then."

As he said this, the Scarecrow glanced at the Tin Woodman, who nodded his assent.

All that second day they traveled steadily, entertaining one another the while with stories of adventures they had formerly met and listening to the Scarecrow recite poetry. He had learned a great many poems from Professor Wogglebug and loved to repeat them whenever anybody would listen to him. Of course Woot and the Tin Woodman now listened, because they could not do otherwise — unless they rudely ran away from their stuffed comrade. One of the Scarecrow's recitations was like this:

"What sound is so sweet
As the straw from the wheat
When it crunkles so tender and low?
It is yellow and bright,
So it gives me delight
To crinkle wherever I go.

"Sweet, fresh, golden Straw!
There is surely no flaw
In a stuffing so clean and compact.
It creaks when I walk,
And it thrills when I talk,
And its fragrance is fine, for a fact.

"To cut me don't hurt,
For I've no blood to squirt,
And I therefore can suffer no pain;
The straw that I use
Doesn't lump up or bruise
Though it's pounded again and again!

"I know it is said
That my beautiful head
Has brains of mixed wheat-straw and bran,
But my thoughts are so good
I'd not change, if I could,
For the brains of a common meat man.

"Content with my lot,
I'm glad that I'm not
Like others I meet day by day
If my insides get musty,
Or mussed-up, or dusty,
I get newly stuffed right away.”





...chapter three of The Tin Woodman of Oz...previous...next...

Round"a*bout` (?), a.

1.

Circuitous; going round; indirect; as, roundabout speech.

We have taken a terrible roundabout road. Burke.

2.

Encircling; enveloping; comprehensive.

"Large, sound, roundabout sense."

Locke.

 

© Webster 1913.


Round"a*bout`, n.

1.

A horizontal wheel or frame, commonly with wooden horses, etc., on which children ride; a merry-go-round.

Smart.

2.

A dance performed in a circle.

Goldsmith.

3.

A short, close jacket worn by boys, sailors, etc.

4.

A state or scene of constant change, or of recurring labor and vicissitude.

Cowper.

 

© Webster 1913.

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