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.
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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.