City of Carmel

The city recently celebrated its 100th traffic circle, and has more than 30 others planned.

Folks who love that elegant traffic doughnut with a proven safety record—the roundabout—should consider relocating to Carmel, Indiana. The city recently debuted its 100th circular intersection, further solidifying its status as Exalted Roundabout Lord of the United States.

The intersection’s ribbon-cutting was marked with crowds, fireworks, live music, and a drone fly-over that captured the grass-centered ring in all its glory:

City of Carmel

“This marks a milestone in a 20-year initiative to transform a transportation network that had previously been littered with failing, traditional suburban traffic lights, four-way stops, and other poorly functioning, dangerous intersections,” the city crowed in a press release. “The network-wide incorporation of modern roundabouts has transformed Carmel’s roadways into a smooth-flowing network that has dramatically reduced accidents.” (Indeed, the Federal Highway Administration says roundabouts decrease severe traffic accidents by about 80 percent compared to intersections with traffic lights or stop signs.)

Carmel and its roundabout-loving mayor, Jim Brainard, have helped push Indiana into the big league of U.S. states deploying roundabouts, despite its smaller size compared to, say, Colorado or California. In terms of individual U.S. cities, it appears to have no equal in this regard, though Colorado Springs comes a little close, with around 70 roundabouts. Plus, its one roundabout per 890 residents gives Carmel a “not too shabby” rating for roundabouts per capita, according to Bill Baranowski of the delightful website RoundaboutsUSA.

“Here in Utah, Riverdale City, with a population of 8,400, has 7 roundabouts so per capita there are one roundabout per 1,200 citizens,” emails Baranowski. “Avon, Colorado, 6,447/13=495 almost double your Carmel ratio.”

Carmel believes its horde of roundabouts, which don’t require drivers to stop and start, save the city’s motorists about 24,000 gallons of gas annually for each roundabout. And with more than 30 new roundabouts planned in the next few years, the city will continue to reap the environmental and safety benefits of this curvy, low-speed traffic intervention. So why aren’t more places in the U.S. coming around to roundabouts?

Ken Sides, a transportation engineer at Sam Schwartz, has a theory about why America continues to embrace the “ugly, unpleasant, and dangerous seas of asphalt” that are conventional intersections.

“Just as a strong local champion can get roundabouts built, as in the case of Mayor Brainard, a lack of strong national championship might be [a] reason,” Sides says. “[The Federal Highway Administration] does list modern roundabouts as a ‘proven safety countermeasure,’ but lumps roundabouts in with nine other countermeasures. [The Institute of Transportation Engineers] styles itself as an international leader in traffic engineering, but has issued only a tepid statement in support of modern roundabouts, in spite of the tens of thousands being constructed worldwide.”

If the U.S. were to get serious about roundabouts, it’d have to pick up the pace significantly. “At a national level, the United States would need at least 145,000 modern roundabouts to achieve roundabout parity with either France or Australia,” Sides says. “If the U.S. builds 7,050 roundabouts per year for the next 20 years, it would then be… 20 years behind France and Australia.”

City of Carmel

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A photo of Andrew Field, the owner of Rockaway Taco, looking out from his store in the Rockaway Beach neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York.
    Life

    Tacos and Transit: Rate Your City

    From taco-rich San Diego to the tortilla wastelands of Boston, we asked you to grade U.S. cities on two critical metrics: Mexican food and public transportation.

  2. A photo of shoppers in the central textile market of downtown Jakarta.
    Design

    How Cities Design Themselves

    Urban planner Alain Bertaud’s new book, Order Without Design, argues that cities are really shaped by market forces, not visionaries.

  3. A man uses his mobile phone at night near food stalls at a festival in New York.
    Life

    So You Want to Be a ‘Night Mayor’

    As U.S. cities hire nightlife officials, we talked to people on the job about what they really do—and why you shouldn’t call them “night mayors” at all.

  4. A photo of a Christmas tree in downtown Rome.
    Life

    The Tree That Ruined Your City’s Christmas

    From Rome to Baltimore, the quality of the municipal Christmas tree can expose a city’s deeper failures.

  5. Young students walking towards a  modern wood building surrounded by snow and trees
    Environment

    Norway’s Energy-Positive Building Spree Is Here

    Oslo’s Powerhouse collective wants buildings that make better cities in the face of climate change.