Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Driving Circles Around the Neighbourhood

I'm a fairly happy-go-lucky driver, but my mood changes when I get behind drivers who don't know the rules of the road.

I use my horn. I make unkind gestures. I curse like a sailor.

Traffic circles are a fairly new phenomenon in Ottawa but they seem to catching on, particularly in new neighbourhoods.

I love them. They are an effective means of keeping traffic moving at busy intersections, plus they mitigate the damage and potential injury in the event of a collision.

This year, a traffic circle replaced a busy intersection in my neighbourhood. What could once take time to navigate now takes a fraction of the time, especially during weekday-morning commutes, where everybody seemed to be out on the roads. Being in a residential zone that had two nearby schools, mornings could be brutal, as kids were delivered to their classes and folks were trying to get to work. The circle made perfect sense.

But there are many drivers who don't know how to navigate a traffic circle, and encountering one of these drivers has become a pet peeve. In particular, I become frustrated when I'm behind a driver who, when they approach an empty circle, come to a full stop. And wait.

This circle is a single-lane traffic circle. It's not particularly big: as you approach, you can see the other three entrances and any traffic within the circle. If it's empty, you know well before you reach it.

When I approach the circle, I will decelerate to the posted speed limit. Maybe a little faster. If no one is in or near the circle, I will release my foot from the brake as I enter the circle, coast around, and then accelerate as I approach my exit.

That's the way it should happen.

If there is a car that is approaching from the left or right lanes, and I'm ahead of them, I do the same thing. I'm going to get through the circle first. I have the right of way. If the person to my left is ahead, I'll yield, allowing them to enter the circle first and pass me before I enter. If the person to the right is ahead, I slow down a little more but I don't stop, because he or she will still be ahead of me, and it's okay for more than one vehicle to be in the circle at one time.

I always yield to a car in the circle that is approaching on my left. If more than one car is approaching from my left, I stop and wait until it's safe to enter the circle. If any pedestrian is crossing ahead of the circle, from either left or right, I yield to them.

And, folks, once I'm in the circle, I don't stop.

That's the way it should happen.

As a bonus, I will put my turn indicator on if I intend to turn right or left, as a courtesy to the other drivers. I don't know if there's a rule for that, but I do it anyway. I'm a courteous, safe driver. At least, I try to be.

More times than I'd care to see, drivers come to full stops before they enter the circle, whether there is traffic or a pedestrian, or not. Sometimes, if I'm following a car inside the circle, that driver has stopped, in the circle, to let another car in or allow a pedestrian to cross (pedestrians must give the right of way to cars exiting a circle).

As Ottawa grows and more communities are added to the landscape, I'm sure that traffic circles will be a part of that growth. They make a lot of sense. But they only make sense when everyone uses them properly.

The Ontario Ministry of Transportation clearly outlines the rules for navigating traffic circles. If you're new to them, take a look and familiarize yourself with the proper way to move through them.

Because, if I'm behind you and you've stopped when you shouldn't, I will use my horn, make unkind gestures, and curse like a sailor.

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