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Life in the Bike Lane

What about roundabouts?

By: Tom Frady
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Roundabouts, generally speaking, are a good thing for cars, getting them through an intersection faster than a four-way stop.

While a standard in much of Europe, roundabouts are relatively new in America. But an American study several years ago found the frequency of accidents went down 60 to 70 percent and car speeds were also reduced, usually to about 15 mph, which is a reasonable speed for a bike rider.  That’s gotta be good for cyclists, right?

But are roundabouts better for bikes?  There have been studies but nobody really knows the answer to that question, yet.  In the states, attempting a roundabout on a bike is a scary concept since most drivers aren’t adept at navigating the circles. That could be because they have less experience with them.
Roundabouts can be quite intimidating on a bike. It doesn’t help that some drivers use them badly, barging into the traffic flow and failing to use their indicators correctly.

The danger zones for cyclists are the areas immediately in front of the roads joining the roundabout. Drivers entering the roundabout might fail to see you and pull out in front of you. Or drivers exiting the roundabout might turn right in front of you.

Both of these situations are more likely if you’re at the edge of the roundabout, because that is not where drivers will be looking. They’ll be looking for cars in the center of the traffic lane. That’s where you need to be: take your lane!

For the most part, roundabouts in Placer County are fairly easy to negotiate. Rutherford Canyon and Del Rio Court/Americana Way are single lane and have almost no traffic, for example.  But the two on Rocklin Road have two lanes and often have significant traffic. 

When approaching a roundabout, take your lane. When you’re still some distance from the entrance – say, 20 yards – look, if necessary signal, and take up your position. As long as you’re not going straight on, signal left or right for the benefit of drivers behind you.

Give way to traffic in the roundabout, joining when it’s safe to do so. If you are turning right, take your lane. Signal right as you approach your exit.

If you are going straight through in a multi-lane roundabout, take the right-most lane that goes straight on; it will make it easier for you to exit the roundabout and should dissuade drivers from “undertaking” you. Signal right as you pass the exit before the one you’re taking.

If you are turning left (going most of the way around) on a two-lane roundabout, you’ll usually want to join the lane closest to the center. On roundabouts with more lanes, pick the right-most lane that’ll take you where you want to go, which will probably be the next to the right-most lane. The latter is where right-turning and straight-on traffic will be. Once you’ve reached your lane, take it. Signal right as you pass the exit ahead of yours, check for traffic, and peel off right, making no sudden changes of direction.

You’ll note these instructions are not really any different from how you’d negotiate a roundabout by car. Bicycles are traffic just like cars. Act like it and you’ll be treated like it.

Make your intentions obvious: you’re telling drivers what you’re about to do, not meekly asking permission. If drivers know what you’re doing, they can react accordingly.

Tom Frady is a Lincoln resident and avid cyclist and driver.