Slate's Tom Vanderbilt thinks Americans should learn to love the roundabout. Hasn't he ever seen "National Lampoon's European Vacation?" Here's five reasons why Americans will never learn to love the roundabouts.
Vanderbilt cites evidence that roundabouts are safer due to something called "geometry," saying, "they reduce the number of places where one vehicle can strike another by a factor of four." The problem is, Americans don't care about safety, they care about the illusion of safety.
You're eight times more likely to be killed in a car than you are in an airplane, yet when was the last time you heard about "fear of driving?" Given the mainstream media attention plane crashes receive, we're betting you know at least one person who's too afraid to fly.
The red and green lights at intersections reassure American drivers that someone else is making crucial safety decisions for them. When the light is green, it's safe to go; when it's red, it's safe to stop. No more thought is required, leaving US drivers to focus on what's really important. Like their Big Macs.
2. Divine Right
Having experienced the roundabout magic in other countries, we won't question Vanderbilt's anecdotal evidence that roundabouts save time over traditional intersections by creating constant traffic flow rather than abbreviating journeys with mandated stops. The problem is, Americans don't just care about getting where they're going quickly, they care about getting there quicker than the next guy.
Where roundabouts fall down is in their requirement for drivers to stop thinking of their own needs and start thinking about sharing the road. Modern roundabouts require driver's entering the circle to yield to those already in it. Think back to the last time you were driving on a highway and construction blocked a single lane, requiring traffic to merge. Did everyone behave themselves, allowing one car to merge after another? No, they exercised their divine right to cut other people off, needlessly creating a 20-mile jam that made you late for work. Again. Installing a merge at every intersection in the country would result in either a nationwide traffic jam or a huge spike in the violent crime rate. Probably both, people have guns here.
By eliminating the time cars spend idling and reducing the number of times cars have to accelerate from a dead stop - as Vanderbilt says, the least efficient thing an engine can do - roundabouts would, at a single stroke, kill American culture. George Lucas could never have made American Graffiti and therefore Star Wars if it hadn't been for the street races that resulted from stoplights. As all good Americans know, our cultural contribution to the world makes up for us wasting natural resources.
4. Other People
Vanderbilt goes positively giddy discussing the potential for change roundabouts bring to the urban landscape, suggesting parks could be built in their centers, the elimination of left turn lanes would make roads narrower and therefore safer for pedestrians and reduced traffic congestion and noise would make possible European-style street culture with sidewalk cafes, children playing outside and mimes.
Ok, we made up the part about the mimes, but do you really think Americans want parks, statues and safely-crossing pedestrians getting in the way of their SUVs? Do Americans really want to bask in cafe culture instead of working? One of the reasons we like cars so much is that they provide separation from the people around us. Where you can expect to spend the average European commute with your face firmly planted in the armpit of a person who believes eating copious amounts of garlic and horse meat provides adequate deodorization, American drivers can enjoy shock jocks and Starbucks. Being forced to walk through parks, eat in outdoor cafes and play in the street would force us to associate with other people and we don't like other people, especially mimes.
5. Bad Drivers
While Vanderbilt didn't exactly cite the "old people in Florida crash on a roundabout because it gets wet from a fountain and they have bald tires and rear-wheel drive" urban legend, Vanderbilt does acknowledge that roundabouts might prove too much for many of the Greatest Generation. His solution? Euthanasia. Or at least something close to it: taking their licenses away.
Vanderbilt says, "a larger question here is whether people who cannot manage to merge at low speed into a counter-clockwise circle and, yes, perhaps even change lanes in that circle, before finding the correct exit should actually be holding licenses that enable them to operate heavy machinery in the first place."
This is American damn it. Old people gave their lives in WWII defending the right of other old people to drive well past a safe age. This country was built on the principle that all men are created equal, even one's that can't drive. If roundabouts call our fundamental freedoms into question, we don't want ‘em.