Traffic Circles Can Make Intersections Safer, But Also Confusing: The Kiplinger Letter

In the U.S. traffic circles are on the rise — studies show that roundabouts, as they are commonly known, are safer than traditional intersections.

Traffic circles may improve the flow of traffic, but they can confuse drivers and create challenges for cyclists. To help you understand what’s next for road design in the future, our highly experienced Kiplinger Letter team will keep you abreast of the latest developments and forecasts (Get a free issue of The Kiplinger Letter or subscribe). You'll get all the latest news first by subscribing, but we will publish many (but not all) of the forecasts a few days afterward online. Here’s the latest…

The U.S. continues to warm up to traffic circles, a road design long embraced globally. Until the 1990s, circular intersections were rare, but in the past 25 years, an estimated 10,000 have been built in cities and towns across the U.S., with plenty more planned. This lags behind countries like the U.K., which has almost three times as many, despite being 40 times smaller in land mass. 

New York City’s Columbus Circle is one of the first traffic circles. Designed in the 19th century by William Phelps Eno during the making of Central Park, the circle now serves traffic on Central Park South, Broadway, and Eighth Avenue-Central Park West. 

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Proponents say traffic circles, which are often called roundabouts, are much safer than traditional intersections and improve traffic flow because drivers don’t have to stop and wait for red lights. When compared to traditional intersections, traffic circles reduce collisions by 37% and fatal collisions by 90%, according to studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Critics say they may not handle heavy traffic well and, depending on the design, can be dangerous for bicyclists. Another worry: Driver confusion. 

Florida has the most traffic circles in the U.S., with about 600 through 2022. Washington, Indiana, Wisconsin and North Carolina round out the top five. The top city? Carmel, Indiana.

This forecast first appeared in The Kiplinger Letter, which has been running since 1923 and is a collection of concise weekly forecasts on business and economic trends, as well as what to expect from Washington, to help you understand what’s coming up to make the most of your investments and your money. Subscribe to The Kiplinger Letter.

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Sean Lengell
Associate Editor, The Kiplinger Letter

Sean Lengell covers Congress and government policy for The Kiplinger Letter. Before joining Kiplinger in January 2017 he served as a congressional reporter for eight years with the Washington Examiner and the Washington Times. He previously covered local news for the Tampa (Fla.) Tribune. A native of northern Illinois who spent much of his youth in St. Petersburg, Fla., he holds a bachelor's degree in English from Marquette University.