A Roundabout. Un Rondpoint. Une Giratoire

Hurrah! We survived an overnight flight with a crawling 15 month old. All that was in our way? Only a 3 hour drive with a child not known to sleep in a car. As we cruised (and Loie miraculously slept) I was designated navigator since, despite my terrible ability at comprehending spoken French, I can at least not balk at place names.

Along we drove. Brett asked for the next few things to look for, at which point I read the following:

Now, we had been traveling since forever the night before. And this at the very end of the trail felt both daunting and comical (but more daunting).

Since settling in, I’ve seen one traffic light, in Argentan, which has 15 times the people our town does. The traffic light is also wildly confusing as it blinks a yellow arrow and is static red at the same time. Not awesome. I’ve either mastered or deviated horribly from French traffic laws each time I’ve gone to the big grocery store in that town. No one’s honked so I’m going with mastery.

We waxed philosophical on why France would be more likely to use a roundabout than a traffic light or stop sign. I said roundabouts were more civilized and that the French didn’t need so much -don’t do this- like American drivers do. Brett thought the French love the sexiness of a curve. Being me, I decided to look into it.

The term roundabout dates from the earlier 20th century and the first one, by modern standards, was built in 1903 in Letchworth Garden City, England. Circular junctions of older vintage can be found such as those around the Bath Circus (1768), the Place de l’Etoile around the Arc de Triomphe (1907) and New York’s Columbus Circle (1904). Half, yes HALF, of the world’s truly roundabout roundabouts are in France. There are some 30,000 here. In my world, they were very common in England because of something to do with the driving on the other side of the road thing.

Some of them are pretty gnarly, like this one. One of the subspecies of Magic Roundabouts, it’s in Swindon, England and there are some intense discussions online about it. Who knew folks could get so worked up about traffic flow?


It also self-refers as The Magic Roundabout which seems a bit much as it is really just A Magic Roundabout.


Despite the nuttiness of that particular one, roundabouts are considered safer, friendlier to the visually impaired and other pedestrians, control traffic congestion, integrate cyclists into the flow of traffic better, AND, as one blog pointed out, roundabouts allow for awesome stuff in the middle like statues and plants and stuff (while also saying you shouldn’t have anything so tempting that pedestrians would feel compelled to run willy nilly towards the awesome).

Maybe they are safer because helpful things like this exist:

They’re becoming more common in the US despite resistance that mirrors that of British attitudes in the 60s. But like many acquired tastes, American surveyed after getting used to them lurve them.

And, I’m not the only person who is fascinated and kind of in love with roundabouts. This BBC story discusses a woman camping in her favorite roundabout to save it. There are blogs dedicated to the civic art in French roundabouts, people advocating for more aggressive US use. There are English travelers making fun of French roundabouts. And, you can discover the musical stylings of The French Roundabout.

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