Roundabouts raise a great deal of controversy in Waterloo Region. Some love the way they make traffic flow smoothly. Others fear the unknown, or at least the other drivers who don’t know what they’re doing. Pedestrians and schoolchildren don’t feel safe crossing them. Traffic engineers are very much sold on roundabouts. Like them or loathe them, they’re here to stay.
Roundabouts can be a challenge for cyclists. As putting a bike lane on the outside of a roundabout invites dangerous sideswiping, it’s best to take the lane like any other vehicle when approaching a roundabout. Consequently, North American standards require that designated bicycle lanes end before the entrance to a roundabout. Unfortunately, when implemented in Waterloo Region, this presents two unpalatable options for cyclists. A curb cut onto the sidewalk and ring of crosswalks is provided for the timid. (If the expectation here is to dismount, it’s clear that it’s been far too many years since our traffic engineers have climbed onto a bike.) The other option is to merge with traffic when the bicycle lane ends.
This poses a safety problem. Cyclists are forced to merge in front of faster moving vehicles. While drivers are supposed to slow down for roundabouts, they don’t always do so. The implementation with the second roundabout lane, shown above on the right, is simply infuriating – it allows a car to enter the rightmost lane before the bike lane ends, which could cut cyclists off at the last minute.
It should be obvious that faster moving traffic behind should be watching out for slower moving traffic ahead, rather than having to turn your head to see if someone’s coming up faster from behind. (Not that shoulder checks are a bad idea, just that due diligence is easier from a car looking ahead rather than a bike looking behind.) It’s like how I was taught to ski down a hill: those downhill from you can’t see you, so yield if you’re skiing faster than them.
I’ve proposed a different way to ‘end’ bicycle lanes when approaching a roundabout, in a way that encourages this kind of behaviour, shown below. In the image on the left, the road markings imply that it is cars that must yield to bicycles ahead of them before merging into the roundabout entry lane. I’ve chosen ‘shark teeth’, which aren’t yet very common or well understood around here yet, but hopefully will become more so as time progresses. Shark teeth point in the direction of vehicles that are supposed to yield and show where they are expected to stop if necessary. Even if a driver is unfamiliar with this style of markings, it should be clear that they are leaving their lane for another and must merge carefully. This is made more obvious by the use of bike ‘sharrows’ in the middle of the lane.
The configuration on the right should be obvious: when a new lane is created for entering the roundabout, it should be a continuation of the bicycle lane so that drivers are required to think and can see cyclists better before merging occurs.
These aren’t big changes to the design of our roundabouts, but they could make a huge difference in terms of cycling safety.