Roundabouts and Rotaries

HALIFAXOver the past couple weeks, Halifax has been investing time in analyzing the feasibility of adding roundabouts to our transportation “toolkit”. Although this seems like a new idea for HRM, Sydney’s Alexandra Street Roundabout has been ushering traffic through since December, and in other parts of the world, roundabouts are quite common.

The summer of 2007 was when I started biking again after a decade-long hiatus, and it happened in the most unlikeliest of places: Northern France. After months of talking about a France trek with some friends in London, England, we came to one important question regarding transportation: what is the cheapest way we can travel while seeing as much of France as we can? The answer was clear, and in May of 2007, after 10 years of relying on transportation modes requiring some form of internal combustion, I left the tiny town of Arras on a 300km tour to Paris. It was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life!

Along the road to France, we saw many things. The roads we took were lined with poppies, making us dub the route we took “La Route Blesse”. In the distance, along the rivers of the Somme, castles watched over us as we cycle swiftly along. In the middle of farmers fields, pill boxes — used by the Germans during the Great Wars — sat derelict and overgrown, hopefully never to be used again.

The more we traveled though, the more we realized how easy it was and how comfortable we felt traveling on the roads of France by bike. Shoulders of major highways were wide enough, and signage was in place to remind all road users to share the space. In the towns during peak hours, some roads were completely off limits to cars, allowing pedestrians and cyclists the freedom to move. But in the more rural areas, we noticed a peculiar, yet effective solution to the typical intersection: the roundabout.

Roundabouts are an incredible tool that French planners seem to use often in rural settings. Signage is simple and the concept and size (roundabouts are about half to one third of the size of our Armdale Rotary) are very friendly to motorized and non-motorized traffic alike.

Three years have passed since my trip to France, and I’m pleased to see a sliver of what I consider European road design making it’s way to Nova Scotia. With support from council and interest by transportation staff, Halifax may be seeing roundabouts popping up at some pretty hairy intersections within the next two years, according to Ken Reashore, Halifax Regional Municipality’s acting director of tranportation and public works. Furthermore, city staff are also indicating that roundabouts are the safer alternative to traditional intersections (roundabouts tends to have 70% less motorist and pedestrian accidents than lighted intersections).

But I’d like to know what you think. Are roundabouts an appropriate answer to Halifax’s traffic and congestion problems? Do you think all road users will feel safe using roundabouts? Please leave your comments below.

photo by greensambaman

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