Thursday, April 18, 2013

Cousins, Chaos, and Roundabouts

Late the other night I happened to catch Louis C.K.'s recent HBO special.  This part in particular about drivers transforming into horrible people had me in tears from laughter and truthbombs.  "You are driving a weapon."

It's an entirely competitive environment, to the point of sociopathology, that dehumanizes every other thing behind those other windshields and boxes of steel, aluminum, and carbon fiber.  Honk honk.

And then there is this:

Order out of chaos.  You have to make eye contact.  With pedestrians, with other drivers.  You have to drive slowly enough to not be dangerous.  To yourself and others.  Because what an insurance bill that would be amirite?  You have to behave like a human.  And people do.

With that said, that brings up a topic that arose last night.  Can a roundabout be bike friendly?  They're generally not particularly pedestrian friendly, but when designed right and for more pedestrian-friendly environments the speeds are slow enough that the conflict points aren't too bad.

The general issue is that cars never stop at roundabouts.  So while safer than many types of intersections (though not safer than four-way stops), I only like using roundabouts at punctuation points where the design character must shift from car-centric to pedestrian-centric or when odd geometries need some orderly device to make the development to public realm interface work better.

But that doesn't answer the question of how to bikes interact with roundabouts in a safe and comfortable manner?  There seems to be two general solutions since the dedicated lane adds more conflict points than subtracts them when entering these types of intersections.  One is to either share with cars or share with pedestrians.  I think I like the share with pedestrians strategy the most as long as it suitably calms the traffic via engineering and calming devices:

However, this isn't even the best possible image.  It's rather suburban and creates a secondary roundabout for bikes linking various trails together, not actual bike lanes.  Though that can be accomplished simply by tightening up the diagram.

In any case, the logical conclusion is that roundabouts just aren't that urban and should be used sparingly.  But progressive traffic engineers love them because they don't stop traffic.  Cars remain the priority.