Clive Greenaway in a boat on a roundabout
Last week a relief road was named as one of Britain's best public buildings. It's not just the roads that get passions high, however. Meet the Roundabout Appreciation
Are you a Dillon?
Failing that, you might be a False-start Florence. Or just a Zebedee.
Whatever your behaviour when you drive round a British roundabout, a
group of roundabout enthusiasts have a name for you, culled from the
characters of the classic Magic Roundabout TV series.
The secretive Roundabout Appreciation Society meets in and around
Poole in Dorset. Members get together to discuss roundabout
architecture, design, safety features and wildlife.
But recently they've been thinking about the way people drive. Clive
Greenaway, officially one of Britain's best drivers (he's passed
every driving test it's possible to take) and a driving instructor
with 25 years' experience, says that being aware of how other drivers
treat roundabouts can be a big help to learners.
"At roundabouts, you have to watch out for different kinds of
drivers," he says.
"You've got the False-Start Florences, who inch forward a bit but
don't make the decision to pull out completely. The person behind
them assumes they are going to go further, so accelerates and goes
straight into the back of them.
"Roundabouts are designed by engineers so that there's a clear view
of the traffic coming from the right. It should be easy to see if
there's enough time to pull out, or not."
But the Florences are by no means the only bad characters on our
nation's roundabouts. Members of the society have come up with more
"There's the Zebedees, who bounce straight across some roundabouts.
They don't use their mirrors properly.
Sir Ian McKellen is to be one of the voices in a film of the Magic Roundabout
"Also there's the Dillons, who drive straight into the middle of a
roundabout because they didn't see it coming."
It all sounds terribly flippant, but Clive and his
roundabout-obsessed friends have some serious points to make about
the UK's 10,000 roundabouts.
Roundabout-style junctions were first used in France in the 1870s,
but Clive says the first recognisable modern roundabout was New
York's Columbus Circle, opened in 1905.
There were problems from the start, because people went round it any
way they liked. But it remains in place to this day, as Manhattan's
only roundabout ("traffic circle" to our US cousins).
The first roundabout in the UK appeared in the Garden City of
Letchworth five years later. It was intended to help pedestrians more
than motorists - with cars getting faster and more numerous, too many
people were getting stuck in the middle of the road as they tried to
cross. Twenty years later, it was decided to make all traffic
navigate roundabouts in the same direction.
Traffic circles were considered a disastrous failure in the US, but
roundabouts continued to be popular in Europe, especially Britain.
Clive believes this is hardly surprising, because overall, they are
"Roundabouts are generally much safer than crossroads. At crossroads
you get head-on collisions and people get killed. Roundabouts are
twice as safe because they are usually slower, and the collisions are
The growth of mini-roundabouts has caused some problems, though, with
some drivers ignoring the road markings and driving straight across.
The society has something to say about that, too.
"At our last meeting, some members thought that a small trench should
be dug around mini roundabouts to stop people driving over them.
People need to slow down and go round roundabouts, even the mini
ones," Clive says.
Good and bad
Ultimately, all the Roundabout Appreciation Society wants to do is
promote safe and considerate driving.
"We want drivers to be more tolerant when they see visitors and
foreign drivers getting in the wrong lane at roundabouts, or pulling
out on the wrong side of the road," says Clive.
"We think that rather than sounding your horn, you should give these
people a little bit of extra room."
So how does an enthusiast tell the difference between a good
roundabout and a bad one?
The secret lies in how well it's maintained. A shabby roundabout is a
poor reflection on local people and local pride, according to Clive.
"There are some beautiful roundabouts with sculptures, flower beds or
interesting plants. Anything that makes the drivers slow down at
junctions is a good thing.
"Some roundabouts are very cleverly designed. There's foliage in the
centre but it has gaps in it so that drivers can see through to the
other side. Their eyes take in the plants, but also the oncoming
traffic. Drivers don't realise it, but they can be controlled in this
way by the roundabout designers."
The society members take their roundabouts very seriously, but their
thoughts have recently turned to other aspects of road safety,
especially that of pedestrians.
Clive puts it bluntly:
"These days, roundabouts have put the motorist at the top of the
tree. Pedestrians don't seem to be so important anymore. We're
thinking of starting up the Zebra Crossing Protection Society,
because they seem to be disappearing too."