Nfld. & Labrador

Could roundabouts have prevented this week's traffic nightmare in St. John's?

A retired driving instructor thinks it's time that metro region start looking at other alternatives to intersections with traffic lights.

Retired driving instructor Barry Whalen thinks St. John's could use more roundabouts

A diagram showing how merging works on a roundabout, also known as a rotary. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

A retired driving instructor thinks it's time that metro St. John's region starts looking at alternatives to intersections with traffic lights.

When he first saw the roundabout being built in Paradise, Barry Whalen wasn't convinced the idea would work.

Now, after a weekend wind storm that knocked out traffic light service in more than 70 intersections around St. John's, and after seeing the success of the one in Paradise, Whalen has changed his tune.

Traffic lights were destroyed or knocked out of service in more than 70 intersections in the St. John's area after hurricane-force winds on the weekend. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

"I initially didn't sing the praise of the roundabouts, having been around the world and seeing them," he told the St. John's Morning Show.

"They looked to be confusing but they're not at all, they're very simple."

Easy to learn

With his years of experience teaching Newfoundlanders how to drive, Whalen at first wasn't sure how well locals would adapt to roundabouts – also known as rotaries – given that three- and four-way stops were the only intersections people have ever known in the province.

A guide on how to navigate a roundabout. 1:11

However, after seeing drivers take easily to the Paradise one, he now feels people here could adapt to what he calls a "culture of roundabouts."

"It's just two very basic things you have to remember," he said.

"One is basically the guy in the rotary already has the right of way, and the other one is, all you have to do is be prepared to yield — and other than that traffic keeps flowing."

Won't work everywhere

Barry thinks roundabouts would be a much better option in a few particular intersections in St. John's, such as where Torbay Road meets Stavanger Drive.

Barry Whalen says intersections could move more smoothly if they were circle instead of square, and had roundabouts instead of stop lights. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

But he said they're not always a viable option, especially in a city as old as St. John's.

In order for roundabouts to work, he said enough land needs to be available to build them, which means a proper study would need to be done to see if a rotary is viable in a particular area.

In those areas where roundabouts wouldn't work, he would like to see service roads installed to ease congestion.

However, Whalen said there are definitely a lot of intersections in the St. John's area that got messed up after this weekend that would still be running smoothly — if they were a circle shape instead of a square.

"The best thing about them is you don't have to gear your mind around stopping first like an ordinary intersection," he said.

'You gear yourself around yielding, and traffic can move better."

With files from St. John's Morning Show


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