England's 'Lord of the Rings' to Fredericton: Embrace your roundabouts
President of the U.K.'s Roundabout Appreciation Society calls traffic circles 'an oasis on a sea of asphalt'
It's no secret that some drivers in Fredericton are not big fans of the city's new traffic roundabouts.
But for Kevin Beresford, the president of the Roundabout Appreciation Society based in Redditch, near Birmingham, England, where the roundabout is king, what's not to love?
"They lift our sagging spirits on long tiresome journeys," said the man who calls himself the Lord of the Rings. "To us, they're like an oasis on a sea of asphalt."
Traffic circles are becoming more common in New Brunswick as a way of controlling traffic at busy intersections and improving safety.
Fredericton is completing work on a new roundabout at the end of Smythe Street, called Victoria Circle.
And city engineers have taken steps to ensure drivers pay attention to traffic approaching from the left, rather than looking at their destination across the circle. They've built up a mound on the central circle to obscure the other side of the roundabout.
One of those engineers, Jon Lewis, told CBC News "there will be a bit of a learning curve of course, once it opens."
Kevin Beresford doesn't think the curve is really that steep.
"OK, so all you've got to do is yield to the traffic that's coming towards you on the left," he said, "I mean, this is not rocket science, is it?
"You join the flow at your own chosen speed, wait until there's a gap and you give way to the traffic that's on the roundabout."
And Beresford said the statistics bear out how successful they are.
We don't like fascist traffic lights telling us when to stop and when to go.- Kevin Beresford
"They're the most efficient way of filtering traffic, they're the most green," he said. "You know, there's no green in traffic lights, only red, that's what we like to say.
"It's something like a 40 per cent reduction in fuel emissions if a roundabout is installed over traffic signals."
And then there's the safety issue.
"When you have a four-way intersection with traffic lights, that's where all your fatalities are because everyone's going in different directions."
Beresford believes the roundabout has an appeal that's particularly British.
"I think it appeals to the English mentality, their psyche," he said. "It's based on a set of decorum and etiquette, it's like 'No, after you,' 'No, after you,' sort of thing.'
"We don't like fascist traffic lights telling us when to stop and when to go. We leave that to you guys and Americans and Germans, who like traffic lights," Beresford said with a laugh.
'Full of testosterone'
The English like them so much, they've built some of the most complicated traffic circles in the world.
The most famous is in Swindon and is called the Magic Roundabout.
"That's the white knuckle ride of all roundabouts," said Beresford. "It's full of testosterone."
The roundabout society plans day trips to see it, and Beresford has taken TV crews from around the world through it.
Designed in 1972 at the intersection of six roadways, it's actually one large circle surrounded by five small roundabouts. And keep in mind, English drivers are on the left-hand side of the road.
"The middle 'bout goes round counter-clockwise, which is the opposite to a normal roundabout over here," said Beresford.
"But the outer PMTs [painted mini-traffic islands], they go round the conventional way [clockwise]."
Drivers use the small circles to find their way into the so-called mother roundabout in the middle. They exit the central circle the same way.
"You would think that would be chaotic, but it's not. It works perfect … but that's the advance course for you guys, you know, that's to come later."
Setting functionality aside, Beresford believes the best thing about a roundabout is what you choose to put in the middle.
In England, they are valuable green space, perfect for public art or just about anything else.
"I've seen fountains, statues, trains, boats, planes, pubs, churches, you name it," Beresford said. "Anything can go on a roundabout and that's what makes them so special."
Beresford leans toward the quirky as his favourites.
"There's a duck pond on one of the roundabouts down south, with a little duck house in the middle … and the locals call it Duckingham Palace, can you believe that?" he said.
"But there's one in Nuneaton where it's a huge dandelion and it's a fountain really, and all the spray comes off this dandelion like seeds. You don't just see it, you can actually drive round it, round and round and round, which I do, on a summer's day, and wind your windows down and you get all the spray."
Beresford hopes Fredericton will make creative use of its latest traffic circle.
"That's a blank canvas for any local artist there."
He said there's no limit to what can be safely put on a roundabout.
"Listen, we've got a working windmill up in Yorkshire that produces flour — on a roundabout," he said. "And we don't get no people distracted by that. I've never seen any case where someone's been distracted by what's on a roundabout."
The Roundabout Appreciation Society puts out an annual calendar featuring photos of favourite so-called 'bouts.
And Beresford has a message for people in Fredericton.
"If you can send me a picture of your beautiful mound roundabout, I'll put it in next year's calendar."
Of course, the city has plans to add features to the roundabout next year, so best to hold off on those photos until then.