Around the Globe – The Quirkiest Roundabouts in the World

Author: Thorsten Rienth

Jun 14, 2023 Safety on the road

Roundabouts are no special event for experienced drivers. So it is more interesting to see how engineers and road planners give free rein to their creativity to design quirky structures. Even under water, things may literally go round in circles.

Roundabouts are often safer than conventional intersections and also ensure better traffic flow. No wonder traffic planners give them preference, as has been the case for more than 120 years: As early as 1899, people were driving in circles around Görlitz’s Brautwiesenplatz – a world record in terms of age!
Things are also clear when it comes to the world record for size: It is held by the Persiaran Sultan Salah Uddin Abdul Aziz Shah roundabout in Malaysia. Located on a peninsula in the city of Putrajaya and equipped with more than a dozen on- and off-ramps, it forms an asphalt oval 3.5 kilometers long. It frames a sprawling park area that is home to the Istana Melawato, an official residence of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, the elective king of Malaysia.
Five roundabouts form the “Magic Roundabout”
In a country comparison of the most quirky roundabouts, England comes out far ahead. In Swindon in Wiltshire, for example, the “Magic Roundabout” consists of five small roundabouts arranged around a large one. To make matters worse, traffic runs clockwise on the outer roundabouts and counterclockwise on the inner ones. Yet the design, while it looks like chaos, serves its purpose: Accident rates dropped after the structure went into operation in 1972. Apparently, the complexity causes motorists to drive more carefully and slowly. The Rothbury mini roundabout is also the world’s smallest roundabout. It has a diameter of just 2.40 meters – and is guaranteed to be visible from every perspective.
A spectacular construction stands between the Dutch cities of Eindhoven and Veldhoven. Suspended by 24 suspension lines from a 70-meter pylon, the “Hovenring” saves some 5,000 cyclists a day from having to cross a busy intersection. Spotlights so cleverly illuminate the Hovenring in the dark that, from afar, it looks as if it is floating freely in the air.
Faroe Islands: Roundabout under the seabed
But who says that roundabouts can only make an impression above ground? The Eysturoyartunnilin (English: Eysturoy Tunnel) connects the two largest of the Faroe Islands, Streymoy and Eysturoy, and includes a roundabout under the seabed. The central column is made of natural rock and is cleverly illuminated in different shades of blue by several spotlights. For drivers with a bit of imagination, it looks like seawater is running through the column.
Other roundabouts, on the other hand, catch the eye not so much because their construction is large, small, high, or even deep. Rather, they attract attention because of an object in their middle. In Salon-de-Provence in southern France, a former Fouga Magister aerobatic aircraft of the Patrouille de France is enthroned on a roundabout. This is no coincidence: Right next door is a site of the Ecole de l’Air, the military college of the French Air Force.
Bielstrasse in the Swiss town of Lyss achieved fame due to a richly oversized roundabout record player. The label on the record is adorned with the abbreviation “KUFA”, which stands for the neighboring Kulturfabrik. In keeping with the style, 800 round metal plates are mounted in four rows on the edge of the turntable.
In Monheim am Rhein, an artificial geyser shoots out of the roundabout
A construction in Monheim am Rhein in Germany, which opened a few years ago, was much more controversial: Traffic lights stop traffic after 64 hours of sunshine and an artificial twelve meter high water geyser shoots skyward from the center of the roundabout. It is a good thing that a clock on the city’s website counts down the time remaining until the next eruption – just to be sure that traffic is stopped in time.
“The person already in the roundabout always has the right of way”
Markus Egelhaaf from DEKRA Accident Research on the purpose of roundabouts.
Mr. Egelhaaf, with some of these quirky roundabouts, the question arises whether they really make sense from a traffic perspective.
The bottom line is that the answer about the sense or nonsense of a roundabout is always a case-by-case decision: How high is the traffic density? Are there many commercial vehicles on the road or is it primarily passenger cars? How difficult is it for traffic to enter the roundabout from side streets? What about pedestrians and cyclists? Traffic planners analyze such contexts very carefully before construction. In addition, the conditions on site are crucial. After all, roundabouts need more space than intersections. Sustainability issues also increasingly play a role in planning: Roundabouts do not require traffic lights, meaning they save electricity and resources. There are fewer or shorter braking, stopping, and acceleration processes, which saves fuel.
Are roundabouts generally safer than intersections?
In many cases, this is true simply because the speeds traveled at roundabouts are significantly lower. Lower speed always means less severe accident consequences. At intersections, on the other hand, there is always the risk that one person wants to squeak through at a “dark yellow” light – but the other person has already gone the first few meters. Or the intersection may have no traffic light control and the speeds on the main lane are high. Such accidents are usually more serious.
In general, the “right before left” rule applies in Germany, but in roundabouts it is the other way around.
The person already in the roundabout always has the right of way. For safety reasons, “give way” signs are always clearly visible at the entrances. In the roundabout, in turn, there is an obligation to observe the rules of turning when exiting and to use the turn signal. This allows other road users to enter the roundabout more smoothly. An important note when exiting: Crossing cyclists and pedestrians have the right of way. In these situations, going at a lower speed compared to intersections is also very relevant! Furthermore, it is important to know: Even within Europe, there are different regulations at roundabouts. Anyone traveling abroad by car should find out in advance about local regulations and customs in their destination and transit countries.
Roundabouts are often used to place things in their middle, like works of art. As an accident researcher, what do you think of this?
The more spectacular the roundabout design, the greater the potential for distraction, especially for non-local drivers. People who stare at the art for too long quickly miss an exit or the stop line. On the other hand, visual obstacles are not necessarily bad – if, for example, they cause drivers to take their foot off the gas a little earlier. However, the artwork itself must not become a hazard. Large and sharp-edged steel structures, for example, can quickly turn into impaling devices. So the responsible road construction authorities keep a very close eye on anything that some people would like to put on a roundabout.