Sometimes those responsible for traffic control find themselves looking for unusual solutions. Most city streets were either planned out as grids or naturally evolved along the outside perimeters of original deeded property. From those trails came paved roads, which led to the modern concept of intersections. As cars replaced horse-drawn carriages, the idea of controlling traffic at these intersections became extremely important for public safety.
In a typical intersection, both streets are controlled by traffic signals of some description. Either both streets are controlled by a traffic light, or one or both may have a stationary stop sign. This all works because drivers only have to decide between continuing through the intersection or turning onto the cross street. But what happens when three or more streets intersect in roughly the same area? The solution may be a traffic circle.
Traffic circles may not be very common, but they often share some characteristics with the traditional ‘town square’. Sometimes the center of the circle will feature a courthouse, a park, or shops. If this is the case, the innermost lane will most likely be a set of parallel parking spaces. If the traffic circle is not used as an attraction, all of the lanes will be open for drivers.
Most traffic circles are well-known to local drivers, but outsiders may have to rely on an early-warning sign designating the upcoming intersection. Typically, traffic circle forms whenever three major roads meet directly. It’s rarely possible to bypass a traffic circle unless you know the area well enough to re-route your entire trip. Going through a traffic circle is almost always the quickest way to maintain or change your course.
When approaching a traffic circle, it pays to know both the local name and the state route designation of the road you’re currently on. Exit signs on the circle itself may not say Main Street, but rather Route 261 South. If you plan on exiting to another street, know its proper designation ahead of time. If you happen to miss the exit on your first pass, you can at least make another circuit or exit for better directions.
To properly navigate a typical traffic circle, you must remember to yield to cars already in the circle’s lanes. All circles travel in one direction only, so you’ll most likely be in a lane designed for a right merge. Look to your left in the circle and wait for a car to exit onto your road or a clear pause between cars. Pull into the circle and head for the innermost lane if at all possible. If you happen to miss your exit, you’ll still be out of the way of merging drivers.
Look for your exit- either a new route or a continuation of your original street. Look to your rear and right to make sure you have clearance. Before you reach your exit, signal your intention to pull off the circle. You’ll most likely encounter another merge lane right off the circle. Watch for regular traffic or traffic light. Traffic circles themselves won’t have stoplights, so you’ll need to maintain a constant but safe speed while you’re in one.
If you happen to miss your exit, cancel your turn signal immediately. A false signal may cause merging drivers to pull out in front of you and cause a collision. Work your way back into the inner lane and take another lap. Be aware of drivers cutting you off from the right rear. Once you see the proper exit, signal your intentions again, and double-check the traffic. Be prepared for any sudden curve in the exit lane or an extra merge lane.
Make a mental note of the intersections in case you encounter this same traffic circle again. Many drivers who drive through these circles regularly will stay in the outer lanes in order to exit quickly. They may not be aware of other drivers who may be uncertain about the exits. Traffic circles are not difficult to negotiate, but they do require a fair amount of concentration and preplanning.Make a mental