Can We Improve Our Roundabouts for Cyclists?

Sinéad Hayes used to cycle through the roundabout between Templeville Road and Whitehall Road a lot. But she changed her route after a near miss one lunchtime.

“I take it the odd time if I know it’s going to be very quiet,” she said. “I’d avoid it peak hours and lunchtime, which is when I had the near miss, just after lunch.”

Hayes said the news that a woman in her late 30s had been struck by a lorry there on 27 March, and then died in Tallaght Hospital was very sad, and had left many in the area shaken.

“It’s not just an area that I cycle frequently, it’s an area that a lot of people I know cycle frequently,” she said.

Hayes had marked her near miss on our Cycle Collision Tracker back in January, adding it to at least eight other incidents in the database that cyclists say have happened at roundabouts, between May 2011 and January 2017.

Around the City

The roundabout where Hayes had her near miss has an outside red lane just for cyclists.

She was in that, wearing high-vis, planning to take the third exit off, when she had her near miss, she said. “I was indicating the whole way around, with my arm out, fully extended.”

She said she has a habit of turning to check if a vehicle looked as if it was going to turn at each exit, aware that it would cut her off. She checked that day, but it seemed clear at first.

“I just caught in the corner of my eye something coming towards me. I had to stop really quickly, and this car just shot past me,” she said. It was a close call that made her wary of cycling.

Jean Doyle had a similar experience – this time, though, across the city at the roundabout in Phoenix Park. Both a cyclist and a driver, she splits her commute about 50:50 between the two.

On that Monday in Januarya car clipped her at the roundabout, she said.

Traffic was heavy coming up Chesterfield Avenue, she says, and cars were slow getting onto the roundabout.

“The driver took a chance to push onto the roundabout quickly without looking properly,” says Doyle. “Most traffic goes straight through the roundabout so the driver wasn’t expecting me to come across it.”

Two weeks later, she had a similar incident at a different roundabout, she said.

One collision on our tracker dated back further to 2014, but Liz Gallagher still remembers it. She was coming off the roundabout at the Pepper Canister Church in Dublin 2 when a car ran through a yield sign, she says.

The car clipped her front wheel, dragging her into the centre of the road and leaving her with cuts and bruises, she said.

Gallagher says that both design and driver behaviour seemed to be behind the collision. “Drivers are too quick to come out and try to beat the cyclist,” she said.

Hayes said it’s not that people ignore the rules but perhaps, in the case of roundabouts with an outside cycle lane, they just don’t know what to do. “Even though someone’s indicating, perhaps they wouldn’t consider where they are going,” she said.

A spokesperson for the Road Safety Authority (RSA), the agency responsible for raising awareness about the dangers of roundabouts for cyclists, said it hopes to put out a 360-degree video for social media to educate cyclists on how best to navigate roundabouts.

“The RSA acknowledges that roundabouts can be challenging for cyclists to navigate at times,” said the spokesperson.

The responsibility for designing roundabouts, though, lies with the local authorities.

Designing Roundabouts

Jason Taylor, co-author of the Design Manual for Urban Roads and Streets (DMURS), says roundabouts were designed for one main purpose: to keep traffic flowing.

“They just don’t serve pedestrians and cyclists at all,” he says. “To make them safe you need to put crossings on them, which is counter-intuitive to what they’re designed to do.”

They take up a lot of room in cities and towns, and they’re almost always difficult for cyclists and pedestrians to navigate, he said.

“So many people don’t indicate correctly at roundabouts, and also, because they have quite large radii, cars come off them quickly at speed,” he said.

These factors alone should be enough to end large roundabouts in urban areas, says Taylor. Or at least to put pressure on making them safer by making them smaller and putting in safe crossings.

Dublin City Councillor Paddy Smyth, of Fine Gael, says that there also needs to be a larger buffer between the turning vehicle and the cycle lane on many roundabouts.

“Seeing as there is a point of conflict there, there should at least be a point where the driver could see the cyclist. Whereas the way we design them you’re bound to have conflicts,” said Smyth, who says he was knocked off his bicycle at the Tallaght roundabout on his sixteenth birthday.

Taylor says that there are alternative designs to those used at the moment. “The way they do them in the Netherlands has a proven safety record,” he said.

Cycling advocate and influential blogger David Hembrow notes that what makes Dutch roundabouts safe “is removing cyclists from harm’s way and the safety of different Dutch designs comes down very much to how well they keep cyclists away from potential injury”.

He points to roundabouts in Assen as the safest. They retain motorist priority on each of their crossings, but have a series of 90-degree crossing points, which makes it easier for both drivers and cyclists to see what is happening in all directions.

“This roundabout design also makes sight-lines longer which gives more time to react, more time to adjust speed so that it’s almost always possible to cross without stopping,” says Hembrow.

Going Straight

Fine Gael’s Smyth says that space is the main challenge in Dublin city, which is why it’s unlikely we’ll see Dutch-style roundabouts here anytime soon.

“If you look at the Dutch roundabouts they are huge,” says Smyth. “Anytime this comes up, redesigning a junction, it always comes down to space. It’s very difficult to do this right while maintaining space for pedestrians.” (Dublin City Council did not respond to questions around roundabout design and what could be done to reduce the risk to cyclists.)

Taylor says that putting a segregated cycle track that loops the outer edge of a roundabout is not the best option. “I wouldn’t think that would offer enough protection for cyclists,” he said.

He sees two good options: remodel the roundabout or remove the roundabout altogether and replace it with a junction. “In DMURS, we were steering towards the latter, to signalise it, particularly with busy junctions,” he says. “But if the traffic isn’t so busy and the road is quite small you constrain the geometry of the roundabout, slow it all down and that’s probably far better and safer.” As Taylor sees it, the future design or redesign of Dublin’s roundabouts will depend on funding. There’s a willingness among planners and engineers to look at it, he says. But “there’s some resistance from the public because anything that slows down drivers, you’re going to get a bit of push-back on that”. Hayes said that, as a first step, she’d like to see better signage and painted lines at the roundabout where she had her near miss at Templeville Road and Whitehall Road.

“I notice that that particular roundabout (…) is missing most of the white markings outside of the red lane,” she said. “There’s not much signage around. For something that’s so dangerous, it really needs to be a priority.”

Author:

Cónal Thomas: Cónal Thomas is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

Reader responses

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Cian
at 5 April 2017 at 08:39

The move towards Irish-style signalised junctions is a costly move which is not a great idea for cycling or walking safety or priority.

At mid-sized roundabouts (common in suburban Dublin and all over the rest of Ireland) the solution is Dutch-style cycling/walking priority roundabouts with a cycle path not at the edge of the roundabout but protected by a grass buffer area — this design means people cycling and walking are crossing at near right angles to where motorists cross their paths.

It’s a proven design… so, why are we not using it?

At larger junction grade-segregation is needed — just as the Dutch do.

See: [http://irishcycle.com/2016/12/05/…

Jonathan Bevan
at 5 April 2017 at 10:42

Engineers are obsessed with ‘controlling’ everything to make it safe for vehicles but they cannot and will not ever come up with safe solutions for peds and cyclists. Removing the roundabout curse in built up spaces is a step in the right direction but to replace with signalized junctions!? Oh dear, wrong again! In the picture at the top of this article there is no need for any kind of over-engineered roundabout or signals – unmarked or free-for-all junctions are low-cost, convenient and safe once everyone is approaching and travelling slower across the space. Oh and by the way at a fraction of the cost of an engnieering solution. Which is what they tend to do in Netherlands in smaller urban residential streets (away from all the showy-off big segregated roundabout layouts).

Citizen Wolf
at 5 April 2017 at 11:09

Yep, I was run down and seriously injured at a roundabout. 100% fault of person in the car.

dave
at 5 April 2017 at 13:33

There is a a similar flaw with two lane roads at traffic lights with a left turn after the lights. If you want to go straight on a bike you have to get into the right hand lane – sit in the left lane and you get squashed. Then when the lights go green you have to move back into the left lane – very dangerous. There is one like this in Ranelagh where the old Spar was. But then is Ranelangh – a town covered in cycle lanes…that are parked on 24/7.

Mike McKillen
at 5 April 2017 at 13:48

It’s a pity Conal didn’t make contact with Dublin Cycling Campaign (DCC) or Cyclist.ie – The Irish Cycling Advocacy Network – before writing this piece!

Roundabouts ‘Irish style’ are a hazard for cyclists and terrifying for some riders to handle. We have to ask why road authorities and their consultants are not getting it right? The guidance is there and the Dutch-style has been perfected over the years.
[https://www.cyclemanual.ie/manual…
I had a very nasty experience a few months ago on a ‘button’ type roundabout at the junction of Strand Road and Ailesbury Road Lower, D4. It is a 3-arm device with ‘Yield’ posted on each arm – so no approach has priority.
I was in command of the junction (control position in single lane) and half-way around it to exit at right angles while signalling my intentions (with hi-vis glove hand) and dressed in hi-vis vest.
I was tracking a car approaching the roundabout when a sixth-sense told me the driver (female) was ignoring me (that’s what 50 years commuting does!) so I stopped dead to avoid death. She just shot right through the button all the while chatting to her passenger.

ccrichton
at 5 April 2017 at 14:03

Cycle paths going round the outside of a roundabout are a terrible and dangerous design and minimise the chance that you will be seen by a driver. A much safer road position is right in the middle of the lane, directly in front of cars, so they will see you in front of them. Cyclists should take up this position before they even enter the roundabout, and stay there until their exit. By hanging off to the left, cyclists are almost apologising for being there and giving cars the chance to bully/ignore/not see them. Take the lane!

Tom
at 3 October 2017 at 11:20

Nearly took out a cyclist on a large roundabout the other day, as I approached the roundabout he was coming around it and was hidden behind my A pillar right up until the last moment when he popped into view.

It’s something you have to experience to appreciate how invisible it made him.

Sometimes you can have a small object moving in synch with a blind spot for a long period of time that you couldn’t imagine there is anything there!
I believe it’s why the Dutch make cycle paths which cross the roundabout at close to perpendicular angles.

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