Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Roundabout 13-May-2014

Roundabout Humor
Source Unknown
"Round and round and round I go. Where I'll stop, nobody knows"

Sometimes that's exactly how I feel when I drive in France.

One of the first things people often ask me is "Do you have to drive on the wrong side of the road?". Luckily the answer is - No.

This makes getting around much easier. But, since Toulouse and  the surrounding metropolitan area has a population of over 1,200,000 - traffic can be a real problem. Since I come from small town Iowa I'm not used to, nor do I enjoy, trying to make my way through heavy traffic.

So far I have refused to drive in the city center of Toulouse itself. I'm sure you can conjure an image of small, winding European streets made of cobblestone and frequented by crazy drivers. That would be Centreville Toulouse. Parking is underground for the most part, and corners and parking spots are "compact" to put it mildly.

But outside of the main city center you will find navigating traffic to be much easier.

One of the first things you will notice is the large number of  "roundabouts". Something we don't have many of where I live in the U.S.

But in France the roundabouts are everywhere and are well implemented, easy to use for the most part, and a great way to keep traffic flowing. That is, as long as it isn't rush hour!  After 8:30 am and before 5:00 pm the roundabouts are a godsend. I drive from our house in Mondonville to the shopping mall in Blagnac and NEVER stop. There are no traffic lights and no stop signs. I go through a series of about 7-8 roundabouts and the trip takes me around 15 minutes.

However it's a different story when you drive during rush hour. Hundreds of cars trying to access all entry points of a roundabout at the same time makes for heavy congestion. Turning our normal 15 minute drive into 30 or 40 minutes.

As you approach a roundabout on the highway you will see white, curved arrows painted on the road to indicate you will enter a roundabout soon. You always turn right into the roundabout. If you need to stay in the roundabout you turn your left blinker on to indicate you are not exiting, so cars wanting to enter will wait for you to pass. If you are ready to leave the roundabout you turn your right blinker on to indicate to the car waiting to enter that you are leaving and it is safe for them to enter in front of you.

Most roundabouts allow for two lanes of traffic, which is nice for traffic flow, but if the roundabout is very congested it can be difficult to get from the inside lane to the outside lane to make your exit. It's only happened a couple of times but I have had to traverse the roundabout twice.

Having a GPS is essential in my opinion. The GPS will display the roundabout and all of the possible exits, highlighting the exit you need to take. I actually count the exits I need to pass on the GPS before I enter the roundabout, then count each one as I pass it to make sure I exit correctly. But if you miss it don't worry, just go around again or do a quick U-turn at the next roundabout and try again.
You don't have
the right of way

Roundabouts aren't just on the highways. They make up nearly all of the intersections in most villages also. We were in France at least a few days before we saw our first stop sign or stop light.

Overall I really like the roundabout system. It would be wonderful in the U.S. especially in smaller towns. Waiting at stoplights would be a thing of the past. Roundabouts are intimidating at first, but once you drive them for a while they are very easy. I don't like the traffic and I'm not prepared to drive the tiny streets of downtown Toulouse just yet - but in general I'm finding driving comfortable overall.

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