The roundabout has had a sort of renaissance in American traffic and road design in recent years. While many Americans might consider roundabouts to be European, there are more being built in the Chicago suburbs:
At least 10 roundabouts have recently been considered or launched in the Chicago area. The intersections consist of a center island surrounded by a one-way lane of traffic where drivers yield to circling cars without the instruction of stop signs or traffic signals.
South Holland in 2008 was one of the first in the area to build a modern roundabout. Another was finished in Lincolnshire in November. Kane County is planning one west of Elgin. Another proposal was recently unveiled for Chicago’s West Lakeview neighborhood, and the Illinois Department of Transportation is looking to convert the despised Cumberland Circle in Des Plaines into a modern roundabout as well.
Because the design forces vehicles to slow down and eliminates left-hand turns, the possibility for multicar accidents is much lower than at a traditional intersection, safety experts say.
In addition to the safety improvements, I recall reading that roundabouts also accommodate more traffic. Instead of having cars stop (at either stop signs or traffic lights), there is more continuous flow.
It is also interesting to read how suburban residents seem afraid of these roundabouts: how does one drive through them? Perhaps suburban drivers all have seen how Clark Griswold (played by Chevy Chase) got stuck in a London roundabout for hours in European Vacation. At least at the beginning, this unfamiliarity may contribute to the reduction of accidents: people have to slow down in order to figure out their next course of action.
In the long run, this is a good reminder that driving habits and behavior are very much conditioned by what we are used to. This reminds of Hans Monderman, the Dutch traffic engineer, who went to great lengths to get drivers to readjust their behavior (and the American way of just adding traffic signs doesn’t help – read about it in Traffic).
(As a side note: speaking from experience with a roundabout in northern Indiana that I drove through for several years, it is pretty easy.)