The Roundabout Bandwagon
Traffic Roundabouts are becoming a hot topic of infrastructure in the US (see Infrastructurist post, PPS post). Naturally, you would expect Indianapolis, a.k.a. Circle City, a.k.a. Crossroads of America, to be a leader in the circular traffic systems. The symbolic and actual city center is a shared space traffic circle - even the flag (see above) is based on Indy's transportation system.
Indianapolis used a grid layout for the street system (which worked well early in its history), but ended ceding too much ROW to cars and parking for the downtown to remain viable for pedestrians. Later on, Indy unfortunately embraced the raised superhighway with cloverleaf ramp layout. These tactics elevated the rights of drivers (many of whom don't even live or work in the city) over every other citizen and local land-owner. Much of the effort of modern urban planning is attempting to roll back these developments and try to incorporate strategies which allow traffic to flow freely but also protects pedestrians.
Luckily, clever minds in the suburb to the north (Carmel) of the city have decided to take advantage of the modern traffic circle (now known as a roundabout). There are now so many circles in the planning/construction phases that some residents think the traffic planning department is crazy. They have simple roundabouts, regulated circles, dogbone double roundabout highway overpasses, etc. It makes driving a motorcycle a lot more fun, or more exciting if the sweepers haven't been through recently (I lived in Carmel for two years and enjoyed the developments).
Carmel also hosts some interesting information on their home page. A link to Kansas State Center for Transportation Research and Training Roundabout page, a link to a flash demonstration showing how to negotiate a roundabout (this should be required viewing for anyone living in Carmel who can't figure out the difference between the yield sign and the stop sign (I know they are the same color, but honestly!)). Finally, a brochure produced in Carmel discussing the reasons for building them and tips for safe driving. Carmel's Roundabouts seem to be good policy. They are still a bit too auto-oriented for my tastes. But they are a great experiment and I hope the Carmel-ites are well served by them.
Here in Irvington, we have three circles of our own (traffic circles - not roundabouts; but I could be mistaken as I have not a great mind for traffic engineering semantics). The two main ones are located on Audubon Road, they were built to link the two sides of the town that grew up across the old National Road. All circles function as traffic control devices, but are not so oppressively auto-oriented.
The North Audubon Circle now is the site for a Methodist church (built 1928). It is the largest of the three circles. Several streets branch off, and it acts as a collector for the arterial of E. Washington Street / US 40 / Historic National Road.
The South Irving Circle is a pocket park with a bust of Washington Irving. The south circle has been recently renovated and hosts outdoor concerts, local gatherings, and plenty of teenagers looking for a place to hang out.
So there are the three traffic circles in Irvington. Each is different, one hosting a church, one hosting a park, and the other is privately owned. It is easy to contrast the varieties seen in Irvington vs. the modern ones in Carmel or downtown Indy. The experiment with traffic circles has been going on for quite some time in Indianapolis, and I hope the form continues to evolve. One thing for sure is that traffic circles have a great opportunity to act as a transitional element or landmark feature, and modern roundabouts save time, money, and gasoline all day long. I hope that we start taking advantage of it, too.