Are roundabouts becoming more popular?

Lazaro Aleman
ECB Publishing, Inc.

Judging from photographs of early Monticello, the Jefferson County Courthouse roundabout has to be among the state's earliest, if not the earliest. This is despite a claim by a central Florida newspaper that the “first roundabout in America was built in 1992 at an intersection in Gainesville.”
Although the Monticello roundabout was configured originally as square, the courthouse still sat smack in the center of the intersection of Jefferson and Washington streets, forcing traffic around it and in effect creating a circular travel pattern.
Local historian Dee Counts confirms the supposition. She notes that although the current configurations of U.S. 90 and U.S. 19 didn't exist until the mid 20th century, a courthouse has existed at the intersection of the two roads since 1840, with the present courthouse constructed in 1909-10.
Indeed, an 1884 Sanborn Map of Monticello – a periodic booklet that mapped every structure in every community across the country for insurance companies – shows a courthouse at the present location even then.
Among the many benefits that the FDOT ascribes to roundabouts, in both urban and rural settings and under a wide range of traffic conditions:

The Federal Highway Administration, in fact, has designated roundabouts as one of nine proven safety counter measures, according to the FDOT.
And it turns out, not surprisingly, that Florida ranks number one in the country for having the most roundabouts.
Today, according to the FDOT, roundabouts exist on 20 of the state's highway systems and on more than 300 local roads throughout the state.
And yet, according to a 2016 article by John Metcalfe in CityLab – based on research conducted by Damien Saunder, a geospatial designer – Florida is credited with 1,283 roundabouts, with California in second place with 683 roundabouts, and Texas in third place with 487 roundabouts.
All told, Saunder credited the United States with 10,321 roundabouts in 2014, which estimate may have been overstated.
Metcalfe in his article quotes Lee Rodegerdts, an international roundabout expert at the Portland transportation-engineering and planning group of Kittleson &Associates Inc., which is described as the keeper of the nation's roundabout data. Rodegerdts notes that disparities exist between Saunder's analyses and those of transportation professionals, attributable to a difference of definitions.
In the terminology of Saunder, according to Rodegerdt, a roundabout is “a contiguous loop with consistent one-way traffic...that controls the traffic flow from converging roads.”
Rodegerdt, however, prefers a stricter engineering definition given by the National Cooperative Highway Reserve Program, which puts the number of roundabouts in the United States at 5,851 as of 2017 – compared with Saunder's 10,321 in 2014.
“There are relatively few true roundabouts in Texas, for example, and many of the circular intersections in Florida use stop signs at the entry or have yield signs within the circulatory roadway, which are inconsistent with the accepted practice of roundabouts,” Rodegerdts is quoted saying.
The FDOT, for its part, defines a roundabout as “a one-way, circular intersection that uses signs to guide motorists around them.” It states that “the basic operating principle of a roundabout is that traffic travels counterclockwise around a central island in the middle of the intersection and entering traffic must yield to the circulating traffic already within the roundabout.”
Notwithstanding the conflicting definitions of what constitutes a roundabout, the experts generally agree that Americans are largely resistant to roundabouts and that the number of these in the United States pale in comparison with those in other countries.
Saunder, for example, in his calculations found that “American drivers on average pass 1,118 intersections before they encounter a roundabout.”
Compare this with drivers in other countries: German, one roundabout per 313 intersections; Great Britain, one roundabout per 127 intersections; Spain, one roundabout per 96 intersections; Australia, one roundabout per 65 intersections; and France – unquestionably the king of roundabouts – one per every 45 intersections.
Why do Americans appear to prefer straight corridors and traffic lights? The suppositions vary, but typically touch on culture, experience and general skepticism of the effectiveness of roundabouts. Bottom line, say the experts, roundabouts tend to elicit protest and resistance in the United States whenever they are proposed.
Still, according to a Bloomberg article, this country is in the midst of a major shift in its built environment and its traffic patterns, and roundabouts are becoming an ever more viable option.