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  What is a Roundabout?

A Roundabout is a type of circular intersection that has been successfully implemented in Europe and Australia, and more recently in the USA. Despite the tens of thousands of roundabouts in operation around the world, there are only a few in Canada. Until recently, roundabouts have been slow to gain support in this country. The lack of acceptance can generally be attributed to the negative experience with traffic circles or rotaries built in the earlier half of the twentieth century. Safety and operational problems caused these traffic circles to fall out of favor by the 1950's. However, substantial progress has been achieved in the subsequent design of circular intersections, and a Roundabout should not be confused with the traffic circles of the past.

City of Hamilton Policy "Use of Roundabouts in the City of Hamilton (PW08078)"

Inside City of Hamilton with Kat Cullen - Ron Gallo discusses Hamilton's Roundabouts

  Roundabouts vs. Traffic Circles

A roundabout is a circular intersection but very different than the traffic circle. The major differences between a traffic circle and a roundabout are:

Yield at Entry  
At roundabouts the entering traffic yields the right-of-way to the circulating traffic. This yield-at-entry rule keeps traffic from locking-up and allows free flow movement.

The splitter and center island of a roundabout deflects entering traffic and reinforces the yielding process.

The entry to a roundabout often flares out from one or two lanes to two or three lanes at the yield line to provide increased capacity (ability to move traffic).

  Safety of Roundabouts

Roundabouts have been shown to reduce fatal and injury accidents as much as 75%. The reduction in accidents is attributed to slower speeds and reduced number of conflict points.

Standard Intersection
(32 conflict points)

Modern Roundabout
(16 conflict points)

  Pedestrians & Cyclist Safety

There have been few studies of pedestrian safety at roundabouts in North America and these are not conclusive because of insufficient data.  Studies internationally have shown that roundabouts can lessen the frequency and severity of pedestrian-involved collisions by 50 to 80 percent.

There are four reasons why pedestrians are safer at roundabouts:

  • Shorter crossing distances:  Pedestrian crossing distances are often shorter because extra lanes are not needed on an approach, and where splitter islands are present the crossing is done in two-stages.
  • Look in One Direction Only:  Pedestrians only have to look in one direction for oncoming traffic whereas at traffic signals cars approach a crosswalk from the left and the right, often at steep angles outside of peripheral vision. 
  • Lower vehicle speeds: There is more time to make eye contact with a motorist and avoid a crash, and if a crash does occur it will be less severe.
  • Fewer conflict points: For a single-lane roundabout, there are 2 vehicle-pedestrian conflict points on each leg, as opposed to 4 otherwise. At multi-lane roundabouts, as at other intersections, an additional conflict is added for each additional lane that a pedestrian must cross. While illegal movements are less likely to occur at stop signs and traffic signals, they are potentially the most severe for a pedestrian.

Instructions for a Pedestrian at a Roundabout:

  • Pay attention. Think. Be prepared to make decisions. 
  • Step up to the curb and make eye contact with drivers so they know you intend to cross.
  • Keep watching all the way across as you cross a multi-lane roundabout, watch for a driver coming in the next lane. Make sure that the driver sees you. 
  • Look and listen for a safe gap in the traffic flow before crossing. Do not start to cross if a vehicle is so close that the driver can not safely yield the crosswalk to you, or if a driver shows by the way that they are driving that they do not intend to stop for you. 
  • Use the sidewalks and crosswalks around the outside of the roundabout. Do not cut across the middle of the roundabout. 
  • Use the splitter island. This will let you cross one direction of traffic at a time. Wait on the splitter island if needed. 
  • The appropriate gap in traffic is something that you can create by your behaviour, not just something that will eventually occur if you wait long enough. Most drivers slow down as soon as they see a pedestrian at a roundabout crosswalk. Whether they then yield the crosswalk to you by slowing or stopping will depend mostly on your body language. There is enough sight distance at the roundabout for the driver to see you and slow or stop. Drivers are more likely to yield the crosswalk to you if your body language shows that you intend to cross. Use the following assertive body language to clearly tell drivers that you intend to cross:

    • Come up to the crosswalk briskly and deliberately – this also shows that you will not make drivers wait a long time for you to cross;
    • Scan for a gap in traffic as you come up to the crosswalk;
    • Look at the drivers;
    • If you have to wait, step up to the curb or even stand with one foot into the crosswalk;
    • Start to cross as soon as you are sure that the driver intends to slow or stop to yield the crosswalk to you.
  • Drivers are more likely to NOT yield the crosswalk to you if your body language shows that you are willing or expecting to wait for a very long gap in traffic before crossing. The driver will assume that you are not ready to cross or do not intend to cross. Passive body language that tells drivers that you are willing to wait may include: 

    • Slowly ambling up to the crosswalk;
    • Not looking at drivers;
    • Standing on the sidewalk back from the curb;
    • Standing with your hands on your hips;
    • Setting down your grocery bags;
    • Playing with your cell phone or music player;
    • If you are jogging up to the intersection, beginning muscle stretches to fill in the time;
    • Not taking advantage of an appropriate gap in traffic to make your crossing;
    • Waving drivers on; and
    • Hesitating and not starting to cross even when a vehicle is slowing to yield the crosswalk to you.

Cyclist Safety:

Studies internationally are less conclusive about bicyclist safety at roundabouts. Most show they are safer at single-lane roundabouts than at other intersections, but not always safer at multi-lane roundabouts. In either case, collisions that do occur are less severe because of lower vehicle speeds.

Where a roundabout is placed along a bicycle route, the standard design will be consistent with that approved by the TAC roundabout design guidance, presently being developed.  Staff will be working with the Hamilton Cycling Committee among other user groups during design stages. 

  How to Drive a Roundabout

As you approach the roundabout there will be a yield sign and a dashed painted yield line. Slow down, watch for pedestrians and bicyclists, and be prepared to stop "only if" necessary. When you enter the roundabout, yield to circulating traffic on the left, but do not stop if it is clear and safe to proceed.

Roundabouts have one-way signs mounted in the central island. They guide traffic and indicate you must drive to the right of the center island. Just prior to your exit, turn on your right turn signal, and watch for pedestrians and bicyclists as you exit.

Visit the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety (IIHS) website for more roundabout information and a video which demonstrates how to drive a roundabout.

To further information, and to view a great animation on How To Drive a Roundabout, visit the Region of Waterloo's website.

You can also download a copy of our "All About The Roundabout" brochure (originally developed for our first roundabout in Ancaster). 

  Roundabouts in Hamilton

The number of roundabouts constructed in Canada is relatively small. Those that are currently in operation have been reported to be performing favorably, when compared with conventional controlled intersections (i.e., stop signs or signals), in terms of improved safety, shorter delays, increased capacity, and improved aesthetics. Early results generally indicate that roundabouts have resulted in an overall reduction in the number and severity of accidents, despite the initial concern that lack of familiarity with this type of intersection would lead to driver confusion.

The construction of roundabouts in Hamilton conform to the City's commitment to develop an integrated sustainable transportation system, which is environmentally friendly, affordable, efficient, convenient, safe and accessible. As the City of Hamilton continues to face the challenges of a growing community, it is important that we look at new ways to solve community issues. Simply relying on traditional solutions is a thing of the past. We must be willing to search out and accept new and innovative approaches that will ensure Hamilton's ability to maintain a high quality of life for its citizens. The roundabout is an example of this progressive philosophy.

Wilson at Meadowbrook (Ancaster)

Wilson at Shaver (Ancaster)

Binbrook at Fall Fair Way (Binbrook)

Binbrook at Pumpkin Pass (Binbrook)

Other Potential Roundabout Locations: