I took a trip to Al Ain last weekend and was reminded of the beauty of the city's roundabouts. They are nice to look at, with each one easily identifiable by its theme (whether it be the zoo or the jebel roundabout). Those themes, I'm told, also make it easier to direct the delivery men to your house. Driving in some of the emirate's larger roundabouts, I also felt safer than I usually do when cruising around a roundabout in Abu Dhabi, thanks especially to the kerbs separating the right-turning traffic from through traffic.
It is a shame that planners are slowly getting rid of them. About a year ago, a number of roundabouts were converted into signalised intersections in Al Ain, with city planners saying they were choosing efficiency over beauty. The roundabouts on Zayed bin Sultan Street were no longer able to handle the traffic. More were being converted. In Abu Dhabi over the years, the same fate has befallen the city's roundabouts as traffic volumes have increased.
We don't have the evidence to support whether traffic is flowing better or not and, of course, no two junctions are the same, but we do know that there are 32 points of vehicle conflict at traffic lights, including 16 crossing conflict points, according to a report published by the Transportation Research Board in 2007. By comparison, roundabouts have just eight points of conflict. Also, statistics from the UK show fewer fatal accidents occur at roundabouts than at other junctions.
Roundabouts then, have a better safety record than signalised junctions, yet they are probably not suitable for every road. UK standards say they are not recommended for three-lane dual carriageways, for instance, of which there are plenty in the capital. The Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council (UPC), in its new street design manual, sticks with this philosophy, preferring single-lane roundabouts for low-volume streets with one lane in each direction, while the mini roundabout is preferred for streets and access lanes. For higher-volume roads, a signal or a signalised roundabout is called for.
I would like to see attempts to keep the roundabouts in both cities, even if it means putting signals at them while redesigning the junction, as suggested by the UK's Department for Transport. And as new city streets are being built with pedestrians in mind, I hope that, they too, will include narrower roads with mini-roundabouts. Perhaps planners' decision in the past to swap to signals at high-volume streets have been prompted by examples of poor driving in roundabouts. Every day on Abu Dhabi's roundabouts, I see cars in the far left lane cutting across traffic to go right, cars forcing their way into the roundabout ahead of oncoming traffic and vehicles travelling too quickly. This behaviour must change if planners are to keep roundabouts.
A reminder, then, according to the Emirates Driving Institute's Beginner's Training Manual a driver should begin slowing as they approach a roundabout. It advises not to change lanes at the entrance to the roundabout but to slow down or stop to give way to vehicles already in the roundabout. As for choosing lanes in a three-lane roundabout, a car wanting to make a right or go straight should enter the centre or right lane. If you intend to go right, indicate as you enter and exit the roundabout. If you are going straight, do not indicate until you exit. email@example.com