Magic Roundabout

On August 17, 2010 · 10 Comments

My childhood happened in a time before video games completely transformed the adolescent earth. Sure, we enjoyed a little screen time with those early Atari consoles but we also had plenty of non-electronic diversions too. I loved making intricate designs as they sprang forth from highly simplistic repetitive motions on a Spirograph. Those crazy geometric creations emanated from just a few plastic gears and colored pens. They amazed me. It was an early manifestation of my lifetime fascination with patterns.

Maybe that’s why my eye wandered to this outrageous roundabout as I researched Canvey Island in Essex, England, for my Islands Below Sea Level article.

View Larger Map

This convoluted junction in Benfleet isn’t anonymous. It has a name, the Sadler’s Farm Roundabout (even if Google Maps currently misspells it "Salders" Farm Roundabout — let’s hope they correct that someday). This is a type of intersection known as a Magic Roundabout. Drivers can travel either clockwise using the outer lanes or anticlockwise using the inner lanes, or in an endless array of different possibilities using the five embedded mini-roundabouts. It’s an automotive Spirograph.

I found a lot of information on Magic Roundabouts. They are also called Ring Junctions but that’s much less catchy so I won’t mention it again. Supposedly they are much more efficient than traditional roundabouts or the familiar junctions with traffic lights. Friendly advice suggests that one should consider a Magic Roundabout as several separate roundabouts located in close proximity to each other instead of viewing it like a single convoluted entity. That makes it much easier to navigate, at least according to the theory. Whatever.

England can keep all the Magic Roundabouts on their side of the Atlantic as far as I’m concerned. They look magnificent from the air but I can’t wrap my mind around how I would actually use one without endangering the public. I find even a single roundabout rather daunting and I’m sure that’s because few are found in the United States where I’ve gained most of my driving experience. Five of these beasts in a row boggles my mind. I’d break out in hives and probably freeze in place if I ever encountered one. Perhaps our UK readers can provide a more objective assessment.

I found a great website that describes the functionality of Magic Roundabouts: Chris’s British Road Directory. CBRD also includes video of such a roundabout in action, and while it’s a different location that Sadler’s Farm it does show the chaos of the junction. I swear it looks more like dodgem cars at the county fair. It’s fascinating in a horror-inducing way.

There must be at least a few people in England who have similar feelings. The Essex Enquirer discussed the situation in June 2010:

Sadlers Farm currently consists of five small roundabouts within a larger roundabout format with the latter being accessible both anti-clockwise as well as clockwise. The new layout will include: A strategic link or "bypass" between the A13 and A130, a simpler roundabout layout for local traffic, a dedicated slip road between the A13 West and A130 Canvey Way southbound and a widening of A13 to four lanes in each direction between the Pitsea Flyover and Sadlers Farm junction.

The Sadler’s Farm Roundabout won’t be around for long, or at least not in its current layout. The driver in me applauds the redesign. The aficionado of oddities in me, who will never have to navigate it, will miss it.


On August 17, 2010 · 10 Comments

10 Responses to “Magic Roundabout”

  1. wangi says:

    Many memories of an intensive driving course in Colchester, and its magic roundabout… It’s got even shorter spacing between the minis if I remember rightly.

    The most surreal thing is essentially going anti-clockwise around the larger “logical” roundabout.

    Trick is to just take each one as it comes – don’t try and plan your way through in one go!

    Current fad is for replacing roundabouts in the UK with signalled junctions. Of course many were signalled originally and will be roundabouts again when fashion changes!

    Or what about roundabouts so big they can be considered “Urban Country Parks”; see:

  2. Robert says:

    The most frightening, in my opinion, is that in Swindon, Wilts. It has it’s own Wikipedia entry:

    It is a difficult drive even for us fully experienced British roundabout motorists. I dread to think how you Americans would cope! I have noticed the confused looks on American drivers on the few occasions they come across simple roundabouts at home. Having said that, I found driving around, and getting thoroughly lost, in Boston a very unnerving experience.

  3. Joe says:

    I’ve noticed on a few of the links regarding this story it talks about the “worst” and “most dangerous” junctions in the United Kingdom. That got me wondering what makes up the worst of the worst in the US, especially for highways. I’m sure there is a list (or two or ten) out there somewhere but the one area that comes to mind to me is the urban loop in Kansas City. Way too many highways and exits in that small of a space wrecks havoc on anyone who isn’t sure of where they need to go. I also remember hearing about a Spaghetti Junction in Louisville, KY, but I believe it has had substantial work done to improve that area in recent years.

  4. This American spent a few weeks in England and loves roundabouts.

  5. Kev says:

    The Magic Roundabouts are not dangerous at all. In fact they are very safe, not mention far more efficient than normal roundabouts and way, way, way more efficient than a junction which to be honest is the worst piece of road design in history.

    But as said, the Magic Roundabouts are not dangerous. Crap drivers… they are dangerous.

  6. Lincoln Ho says:

    I had a gridlock issue with my SimCity 4, and replaced all my intersections with roundabouts and it got rid of it!

  7. Lincoln Ho says:

    There are 9.5 traffic circles that I know of in Edmonton. I didn’t realise how rare it is for North American cities to have them until I traveled. And then you get to the UK, where virtually there are no stop signs because all the intersections are roundabouts!

    1. Bonnie Doon Traffic circle (This one will disappear once the SouthEast LRT is built. All of SE Edmonton goes through this traffic circle to downtown in Edmonton.)
    53.524965, 113.457499

    2. McNally Traffic Circle
    53.537654, 113.456238

    3. Terwillegar Roundabout (kind of useless)
    53.44469, -113.5778

    4. 87 ave
    53.519365, 113.565695

    5. 107 Ave
    53.551012, -113.565807

    6. Crestwood Roundabout
    53.532394, -113.572757

    7. Light Controlled circle, cost $1million to install the lights.
    53.570274, -113.549417

    8. Princess Elizabeth Ave (strange shaped)
    53.570066, -113.494409

    9. Alexander Circle (community decorative fountain)
    53.544566, -113.551257

    10. Cemetary – one entrance, so I don’t know if it counts.
    53.552416, -113.5261

  8. Alison says:

    Is there a word for fear of roundabouts? Circusphobia or something similar? Roundabouts keep the traffic flowing, generally speaking. Sadlers Farm is just way too overcrowded and we’ll be glad when it’s gone.

  9. Chris B says:

    Sadler’s Farm was a little bit scary the first time I tried it, but I use it every day now without worry…..

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