Reggie Black despises red lights. He despises stop signs, too. I was his passenger for a few days in Zone 9 and I had the chance to hear his Roundabout Rants in person. No trip along suburban Florida’s sprawl was complete without Reggie’s Roundabout Rant.
Years of living overseas have made him insufferable about this. When he gets unnecessarily delayed at a stop sign or red light, he starts this monologue, over and over, about how stupid it is to have to wait there, burning fuel, when no one is coming, or when two cars could easily navigate the intersection.
He begins to argue his case for the traffic circle, or rotary. A roundabout.
He even shuts off his engine if he knows the light is going to last a while. In his neighborhood, all the lights last a long time. In Europe, where 95% of the cars are manuals, that’s easy to do. Just pop the clutch, kill the gas, turn the key when you’re ready and you’re off. In America, Reggie drives an automatic, which involves putting the car in neutral, then killing the engine and dead-sticking into your spot. Then when it’s time to go, start the car and hit the brake so the car will shift into drive.
If there’s a guy at the front of the line not moving, brake lights popping on and off, that’s Reggie.
One of the things Reggie learned is that people in other places do things differently. There is more than one way to do a lot of things. Sure, not everything in Europe is better and some things are probably worse; some ways are pretty much a wash. Reggie says in some ways they are more safety conscious than us, and in other ways we seem to them a little overzealous about safety.
So why do stop signs and red lights get Reggie’s goat? Because they assume two drivers are incapable of driving through the same plane without hitting each other. It’s as if someone thinks Americans are just too incompetent to make a safe decision about crossing an intersection. But Europeans of all stripes do it all the time using traffic circles.
They are easy. A driver slows as needed (Reggie says the wicked British always make their circles way off-center to force the driver to down shift), looks to see if there is a car coming from the left, and if not, the driver keeps going. The car from the left has the right of way, so just slow down and pull in behind him. Most of the time motorists never need to come to a full stop.
And that’s the genius. Roundabouts save gas. Various groups in the USA estimate that 4-7% of our total fuel usage is done idling at lights and stops, or pulling away from complete stops. Roundabouts save time, because drivers don’t stop and wait one minute, thirty-seven seconds (scientifically calculated by an engineer) while two cars total cross with the light.
Even when there is an accident, rarely is any driver going fast enough to cause serious harm.
Reggie says there are no T-bone accidents at traffic circles, no one running the light at 70 miles per hour. Even in Italy, where nothing short of a raised fountain will stop Italians from driving as straight through the roundabout as possible, the accidents are only fender benders. The two drivers look at each other, raise their palms to each other, proclaim “Va bene!”, and drive away.
Reggie longs for the day when traffic circles replace all the government contracts for lights, for traffic management consultants, for all the police and emergency responders picking up the pieces at intersections. He plans roadside campaigns, straight out of Burma Shave days, to raise drivers’ consciousness about how much they’re wasting stuck at the light, and how they wouldn’t even have to brake if this corner was a roundabout instead.
Reggie dreams big. In the meantime, his engine is shut off in the 95-degree heat while he waits for the light to change.