The Cyclist and the Roundabout
Although not nearly as widespread as in the UK, roundabouts - also known as rotaries and traffic circles - are fairly common back in New England, particularly in the sort of areas that brevets and similar rides tend to take us through. Personally, I don't know anyone in the US - be they cyclist or driver - who actually likes roundabouts, and I am no exception. Over the years my attitude toward them has transitioned from one of pure terror to one of a more manageable, subdued loathing. There are right of way rules to navigating them, but somehow the traffic flow ends up being chaotic despite those rules. Drivers don't always yield to other vehicles correctly, and bikes they sometimes outright ignore. As a cyclist, you can end up waiting your turn forever despite having the right of way. Or worse yet, a driver's failure to yield once you're already moving through the circle can result in a close call or collision.
Now cycling in Northern Ireland, my relationship with roundabouts has moved to an entirely new, downright intimate level. On the North Coast they are everywhere, often used in leu of traffic lights, and I go through at least one - but more typically anywhere between three and six - every day. There are large roundabouts the size of parks. There are smaller ones that might display a modern sculpture or two. And there are tiny ones that are just painted circles on tarmac, easy to miss. There are urban roundabouts through which cars move at a crawl. And there are rural ones, through which lorries fly at top speed.
Most impressive of all are the roundabouts situated along steep hills. One such stunner is just outside of Limavady town, approaching the village of Aghanloo. When I first saw this thing appear in front of me, my jaw dropped. When approached from one direction, this roundabout requires being ready to yield or stop while climbing a 10% grade, from another direction while descending the same. And to be clear, the hill does not start or end with the roundabout; the intersection is half way through the climb. For a cyclist this can be rather ...interesting, requiring precise control of one's bike and brakes.
But one thing I realised about the roundabouts in Northern Ireland over time, is that they are predictable: There is no chaos or confusion, as everyone actually follows the right of way rules. Traveling on the left side of the road, you yield to traffic approaching from the right, and in the same manner other traffic yields to you. Unlike in New England, drivers do actually yield when it is another vehicle's turn - even if that other vehicle is a bike! It took me some time to trust in this, but once I started to all the stress from navigating the roundabouts was removed. When it's my turn, I go and when it's not, I stop: easy, and, admittedly, more efficient than a traffic light. I like it!
What has been your experience with roundabouts as a cyclist in the area where you live?