I recently returned from the roundabout capital of the US, Carmel, Indiana, a well-off suburb of Indianapolis that decided sometime back in the late 1990's that its goal is not to have a single stoplight in the town of approximately 95,000. Every town has to have a goal, I guess. That goal would never do for Red Light Camera-Chicago.
In the last two decades, Carmel, Indiana, has constructed 100 roundabouts. Carmel is about 50 square miles. Chicago by contrast is about 230 square miles.
The roundabouts are invading Chicago too, like sudden urban crop circles. putting the Red Camera auto-bandits at risk. So the circle to equal a square intersection might pop up at the end of your block. Or both ends. Engineers love them. Politicians do too, crediting the humble traffic circle with doing everything from preventing fender-benders to reducing gang violence to curing cancer through reduced pollution emissions from cars. The Red Light goal of Chicago, like life, will find a way to adapt to circles instead of lines.
Roundabouts are supposed to keep traffic flowing, but I'm not so sure. To enter one you have to yield to traffic from the left, then proceed. If you miss the street you want you have to go around again. Get confused, you have to go around again. And again. And again.
I've driven in many countries with roundabouts, some with the driving done on the left side of the road, and it can be a challenge, but it is nothing like the crazy-eight looping of the multiple roundabouts in Carmel. The entire city is becoming one Crazy 8 thoroughfare. You no sooner leave one roundabout and you're in another. And another. And another. I was confused and turned to my GPS for help, but even she was at a loss. Finally, she admitted she had a headache and shut down, then smoke started to come out of it.
A person I know in Carmel told me that engineers and city planners and people who like to go in circles come from all over the world to Carmel for "Roundabout Conventions." Carmel is Roundabout Heaven -- for some. For them. For others used to Euclidian Geometry and a Madison & State grid of streets, it is Roundabout Hell. No surprise nothing changes in the world. I wonder if they ever reach the convention site, or is the looping around going nowhere the real raison d'erte?
Chicago's roundabouts are increasing with each year, so if you have to circle endlessly to get to your friend's house, do what my friend in Carmel suggested: cut through the Meier's parking lot.
Of course, as I drove in endless circles in Carmel trying to go three miles the old Yes song, Roundabout, was playing on an endless loop in my head. If you like the song, which I'm not sure has anything to do with traffic circles, you will love Carmel, Indiana, Roundabout Heaven and Hell.