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Traffic Lights Versus Roundabouts

Updated on April 12, 2014

Hate Traffic Lights

Hate is a strong word. It's a word that cuts deep into the soul. When someone says they hate something (with conviction), there's a familiar sense of negative emotion that we all seem to share. It's a feeling like no other. It's an emotion I designate for only a few things, but when I do decide to hate something it is on like donkey kong.

The few special things I decide to put into this category called hate are sacred . I will always hate them, and I will forever think they are evil. For instance, I hate being sick, I hate losing, I hate the freaking Dallas Cowboys, and I absolutely loath traffic lights. In fact, I want to punch them neon light thingy, especially the damn red one.

What real purpose do traffic signals serve other than to tick me off? It's as if each stoplight has a mind of its own, remaining red (or green in some cases) for far too long; conversely, not staying green (and yes sometimes red) long enough in other circumstances.

Furthermore, the whole sensor thing is a bit of a scam. (For those who are not aware, supposedly some traffic lights have sensors that detect if a vehicle is sitting there waiting at a light. In such cases, the traffic light computer recalculates the time the light changes in order to accommodate the waiting vehicle.) Whether the sensors thing is true or not, I think it is all bologna and a crap system.

Traffic Signals

Now that's just scary looking.
Now that's just scary looking.

Why Traffic Lights

I would personally like to thank Mr. J.P. Knight for inventing the worst possible thing on earth way back in 1868 just outside of the British Parliament House.

Although, to be fair, I'm sure Mr. Knight doesn’t deserve all the blame. I’m almost positive if Mr. Knight hadn’t created the traffic light, some other schmuck would've. Regardless, if he were standing in front of me today, I would have some unpleasant pleasantries for him.

Why do we have traffic lights? Well, according to Wikipedia (which is the ultimate source of information) traffic lights or stoplights, “are signaling devices positioned at road intersections, pedestrian crossings and other locations to control competing flows of traffic.” This design is controlled by alternating signals between the colors red and green in order to establish who has the right away.

Now, I think it is fair to say that most people know what a traffic light is. So, why am I sitting here spelling it out for you? Good question.

Traffic Lights - Look at the Traffic Jam!

Traffic Signals Suck

I aim to prove that the use of traffic lights is a horrible way to control competing flows of traffic. Of course, the counterargument here is that it works and it’s better than the alternative, none. Sure, it may have worked back in the day, like back in the 1930s when traffic was much less tedious. However, just because the system did work does not mean that it is the best option. I mean, the telegraph works but does that mean we shouldn't use e-mail?

How many times have you personally sat in the middle of traffic, deadlocked, because the freakin' traffic light wouldn’t change? Or how many times have you been sitting there at the traffic light, three lanes across, and each lane is stacked somewhere between 20 to 30 vehicles deep?

Remember, that’s just one side of the traffic light people. If you look directly across the intersection you will see the same numbers and sometimes more depending on “the flow of traffic.” The term should really be called the halt of traffic.

Also, let’s flip the situation around, shall we? How many times in the middle of night have you just missed the green light, and you have to sit there for what seems like a decade while the traffic light cycles all the way back to you? Meanwhile, there are no other vehicles on the road, just you and your vehicle idly waiting. Yeah, controlling competing flows of traffic my ass.

Oh, did I mention that I hate traffic lights?

How to Drive Roundabouts

The Solution: Roundabouts

Thanks to another British engineer by the name of Frank Blackmore, the roundabout was invented. The roundabout, or traffic circle, is the best solution for today's traffic flow problems.

With roundabouts, you don't have to wait needlessly for a traffic light to turn that ridiculous green color. There's no more screaming at the light to turn green when you are running late for that all-important appointment. The roundabout takes all those frustrations and turns them into a simple stop and go...stop and go, free-flowing traffic.

How do I know it works? I was fortunate enough to live in England for two years, where roundabouts trump traffic lights. I fell in love with them instantly.

What are roundabouts? defines a roundabout as, "a circular arrangement constructed at the intersection of two or more roads in order to facilitate the passage of vehicles from one road to another."

Basically, when a vehicle approaches a roundabout, everyone in the inside of the circle has the right away, while those approaching the intersection must yield. Meanwhile, the vehicles outside the roundabout must only yield in one direction (the direction depends on which side of the road the you drive on.)

Simple right? If only everything could be so simple.


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    • drej2522 profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Steve ~ Thanks for stopping by. I agree that there are problems with roundabouts especially in high-traffic areas, but I obviously I had an agenda with this article. Perhaps I should've chosen a more appropriate title such as "Why I Think Roundabouts are Better than Traffic Lights" maybe? With that being said, I realize there are definite pros and cons to each, but I would prefer roundabouts in most situations.

    • profile image

      Steve in New Zealand 

      5 years ago

      Some interesting points got skipped over quite quickly, like imbalance and traffic lights on roundabouts being pointless. I think there is a real solution here. Sure traffic lights are often a pain with lots of pointless waiting sometimes but roundabouts are not perfect either. Often during peak times when the traffic is mostly flowing in one direction with people leaving the city and heading home to the suburbs, you'll get to a roundabout with virtually no traffic from ahead and the side road traffic which would have to give way[yield] doesn't have anyone to give way to. They get priority by default and you get to wait and wait and wait while they speed through. Roundabouts don't always work just like traffic lights. A few years ago we started seeing motorway on-ramp signals which are intended to break up ramp flows into the motorway, generally they seem more effective at causing city street traffic jams as they are green for about half a second, orange for half that and red for what seems like an eternity but is probably around 9 or 10 seconds. I think they are the most annoying traffic lights ever. But then I realised they could make roundabouts better.

      Here we drive on the left side so our roundabout flow is clockwise viewed from above [ as you would unless you are buried there]. Imagine then a set of traffic lights like the motorway ramp signals but the cycle runs counterclockwise. Now when I get a green I go, and 2 seconds later the guy on my right can go whereas before I would have to give way to him depending on how I judge his and my speed and distance from the roundabout, basically whether or not I can get away with it. After say 8 seconds, the car which was behind me earlier is on its way as well, assuming a 4 way intersection, but the theory would hold good for any size and in fact if the junction /roundabout were large enough 2 simultaneous cycles could operate giving vehicles on opposing side access at the same time.

      The only problem with this system is the same problem you get with any system, namely halfwits who can't or won't follow the rules or are so full of themselves they can't read the road or just won't give anyone else a little courtesy.

    • drej2522 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Robert ~ I agree! You bring up an interesting point and it just adds to my argument to roundabouts!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      FYI Feedback.

      On the 17 / 10 / 2012 I took my sons advice and took a stopwatch to my work run to count the amount of time I spent at traffic lights in the metro area. I didn’t take any short cuts and didn’t travel during peak hour times.

      So I really need to apologise to all when I did a guesstimate of the amount of time I waste at the lights each working day!

      I thought I would spend an average of 15 mins??? So sorry I was way of the mark, after timing the day on the roads I was aghast to find I sat in traffic for a total of 31.192 minutes twiddling my thumbs, wasting fuel, polluting the air, being unproductive etc. This was just one day on the road.

      Now let’s look at it a different way!

      If that was the average, (Taxi drivers, couriers who drive in the CBD, which I don’t go to, thank GOD! it would be greater.) I would spend about 2 ½ hours a week siting at the lights. 10 hours a month!! (it gets better) 100 hours per year, we do that for 48 weeks a year.

      1,000 hours over the next 10 years if I do the same job if things on our roads don’t improve? So that will mean

      1000 Hours = 41.666666666666664 Days (not my calculations)

      Will be spent wasting time, burning fuel, sitting at lights over 10 years.

      But the frightening thing is that this is just me….. ONE person!!!

      When we multiply it millions how much carbon do we burn up?

      How much fuel do we waste?

      How inefficient and unproductive do we become as a country? And I’m told to just sit back and relax and enjoy the drive!!!

      Kind regards


    • drej2522 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Paul ~ I agree with "lights catering to pedestrians" but as a driver, I want the roundabouts!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Mmmm, if people only thought outside the same tired old square. Yes, roundabouts are great, but they are not a cure for all problems. Lights cater better for pedestrians and for heavy imbalances in traffic flow. It's up to the traffic engineers to decide what works best.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I guess roundabout are better option for low,traffic zones as People really get confused while merging in to it I would better option are under and overpasses r very expensive but really help slot

    • The Stages Of ME profile image

      The Stages Of ME 

      6 years ago

      Well very good hub and I can see you do not care for traffic light :0)

    • Chris Neal profile image

      Chris Neal 

      7 years ago from Fishers, IN

      I live in the greater Indianapolis area and here the roundabouts that many municipalities are putting in are just accidents waiting to happen. I've seen (and almost been involved in) near-accidents with people who seem to think that a roundabout means we're all Italian now and drive right into it without even looking at who was already there. Or people who are on the inside lane (which means they should follow the curve) but without any signal at all decide to get off, as if I were supposed to read their minds. In NJ they might work, and in England they certainly do, but here in Indy they're a nightmare.

    • profile image

      Mr Angry 

      7 years ago

      There are a lot of new traffic lights appearing in the UK - and increasingly traffic lights on roundabouts, which sort of makes them pointless.

      Generally, they seems to increase travel times both during busy periods and when it's quiet, as in the UK they are never turned off - even at 4 in the morning, you have to wait pointlessly for your light to go green - or risk being fined due to automated camera systems.


    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I spent three weeks in England, Yes I drove. In North America Traffic Circles are seen, but not often. The experience in the UK, was not difficult. Traffic flowed with ease through these circles, and I caught on quickly.. What I failed to understand was the 'mini' circles that were in abundance, simply a circle painted on the road in the middle of an intersection - were in NA, we would see stop or yield signs (In the UK they call these give way). They made no sense? What a waste of time and energy.

    • drej2522 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      LeanMan ~ haha, yeah, you're right...whenever a light 'goes down' or turns into that everlasting flashing light, traffic seems to always move a whole lot smoother.

      Hey, if you want to link your blog here you can...I'll certainly check it out!

    • LeanMan profile image


      8 years ago from At the Gemba

      How strange, I have just written a post on this very subject for my personal blog, taken from a production flow perspective..

      I come from the UK and lived in the city of roundabouts, Milton Keynes.

      I also hate sitting there at the lights, there is a Dutch town that switched off all of their lights, the traffic flowed better and faster and accidents went down..

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      We now have nearly 40 roundabouts in our community in Florida. Granted these are 2 lane roads and boulevards. I just think of the time and gas I save not stopped.

    • Rik Ravado profile image

      Rik Ravado 

      8 years ago from England

      Yes I've always lived in the UK and I agree roundabouts work far better at small intersections. I've noticed in France they are rapidly switching from lights to roundabouts too. I spent six months in the US around 20 years ago and only ever saw one roundabout (in Albany). No one seemed to know how to use it except me!

    • drej2522 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Paradise ~ haha..yeah, freaks! :)

    • Paradise7 profile image


      8 years ago from Upstate New York

      I think I'd be afraid to drive in England. They do it on the OTHER SIDE OF THE ROAD!!!

    • drej2522 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      fyxer...Thanks for stopping by!

      Yeah, I'm pretty sure Americans would take a hit, maybe have a few accidents because they wouldn't know what to do. But, afterwords, Americans would love it!

    • fyxer profile image


      8 years ago from mt vernon

      The round about is better if you live in england i spend some time in england and i see they have a lot there

      but in america they have only a few, they have one in mt vernon ny and i see people are quite confused, the yield signs are there but some don't yield, and some yield too long, i guess it will take time to get used to,this is new to most americans who have not been to england.


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