Traffic Circles are Stupid

When you're meeting someone for the first time, it's not uncommon to ask that person where you're from. When I'm asked this question, I answer "Cape Cod." Massachusetts is too vague, Yarmouthport is too detailed, and Boston is way too inaccurate.

The most common response I get to this answer is "Oh, you must love the beach." In fact, I do not love the beach. But that's neither here nor there. I'd rather focus on the second most common response: "How do you deal with those stupid rotaries?"

Lovely Cape Cod! Beaches and rotaries! A true paradise! Though I hate for the Cape to get pigeonholed like that, it's not an entirely inaccurate description. Cape Cod's #1 industry is tourism (eat it seafood and cranberries!), and the tourists come for the beaches. As for the rotaries, well, we got lots of rotaries. Accoriding to the Internet crutch Wikipedia, the first rotary in America is located in South Yarmouth. Then there are the famous rotaries that control traffic flow by the Sagamore and Bourne Bridges. The Route 28 Hyannis rotary and the Hyannis Main Street rotary are both subject to heavy traffic and have been the scene of many an accident.

These accidents give the rotary a reputation for being periliously unsafe. The bridge rotaries are infamous for tying up traffic. So, no one likes rotaries. To me, that's all gobbelygook. If you know the rules of the rotary, you'll be fine. That means not yielding on the actual circle, you stupid fucking tourists.

Ok, now let me tie this into DC. DC is known for having traffic circles. In other words, "rotaries with obstacles." Rotaries, along with Brazillian street gangs, are the least popular things on Cape Cod. Washington found a way to take rotaries and make them trickier. And more useless. Way to go, city planners.

Rotaries only work if there's a weird intersection. If traffic is flowing from more than four directions, a rotary is probably necessary. Five way stop signs and/or traffic lights don't work. However, when traffic is coming from four directions, rotaries are useless. There's no point to them. Traffic lights could do the work of the circle with far fewer accidents.

Since I'm an American University graduate, let's look at Ward Circle. At Ward Circle there's an inner lane that let's you go straight through the circle. It sounds innocuous enough, but it is straight up retarded.

Imagine that you've never been to DC before. You're going north on Nebraska Avenue. Your goal to take a left hand turn on to Massachusttes (going towards the Cathedral). As you approach your turn, what would you do instinctively? You would get in the left hand lane. Even if you knew a rotary was coming, you would get in the left hand lane so that other cars wouldn't have to cut by you to make their turn.

But not in DC! The left lane going into Ward Circle is a trap! If you take that lane, you're forced to go straight through the circle. And God forbid you make that mistake. If you stop on the circle to make a quick (and illegal) left-hand turn, you will be honked at by unforgiving locals. That's what you get, tourist, for using reason.

Of course, it's kind of the tourist's fault for not reading the road signs approaching the circle. What? There aren't any signs telling you which lane to get in? Really? Well, that's fucking ridiculous.

Another favorite circle of mine is the one off of Massachusetts and Battan. You know, the one with the Embassy of Australia overlooking it. I'm too lazy to find the name for it.* I took a brief little sojourn on my lunch break to check out the circle. I counted over a dozen sets of traffic lights. If you don't believe me, I highly recommend you check it out for yourself. The point of a circle is efficiency. How can you possibly be efficient with over a dozen sets of lights? What are you trying to accomplish with that many lights?

Finally, I present you with the example of 38th and Harrison and Reno. A six-way intersection! Exactly what a rotary or circle was designed for! And what does DC do? No rotary. No circle. A couple of stop signs. After that, you're on your own. I feel unsafe just walking by that orgy of pavement. I can't imagine what it must be like driving through it.

I understand that the city was designed before people were driving around in cars. But couldn't we try to adapt? We built tunnels underneath Dupont for Christ's sake, why can't we do something about all the other Venus-traffic-traps in this disasterously designed city?

This city is poorly designed, at best. Frankly, I consider it perilously unsafe.

* I looked it up. It's Scott Circle.


  1. So I tried to go to Boston this weekend and ended up staying here because I knew that if I went there I would only get depressed because I want to LIVE there and not visit. I miss Harvard Square, I miss the North End (Cafe Victoria, Maurizio's) I miss the ocean, I miss the Fall. I miss The Other Side Cafe. I miss the Commons. Fuck it. Im just going to pick up and leave one of these days.

  2. You're so right about Ward Circle. I used to drive through that every day to work in the Land Without a Soul (Silver S(uck)pring), and even though the straight line through benefitted me, it felt like I was CHEATING.

    DCers may hate tourists, but if there's ever a place they deserve a pass, it's negotiating a circle. Seriously. They deserve a break. You literally have to commit yourself to mastering each one, one by one. The rules of one do not apply to the others.

    I should give classes on Washington Circle. I had to drive through it everyday for two years back when I worked for Non Profit Dickheads of America. I zip through it now, but I'm still totally gobsmacked by the people coming into the circle from the west who don't seem to know they are supposed to NOT barrel into the circle. Yes. You came through a green light 25 meters back, but you are still not allowed to blindside people.

    They are "fixing" Thomas Circle. I am scared as to what they might come up with.

  3. How do you post on circles and not mention Dupont? Is it because it is such an obvious target that Annette Bening mentions it in The American President?

    There are no pictures of you on this site to prove through your alibaster face that, indeed, Rusty is not a fan of the beaches.

    (Oh, and you may have missed my comment in the posting about people who won't get up on the metro. You'll enjoy that one, har har.)

  4. Bourne and Sagamore and Hyannis and all of Massachusetts' rotaries are a ride on the wild side!

    Rusty: "If you know the rules of the rotary, you'll be fine. That means not yielding on the actual circle, you stupid fucking tourists."

    How are we tourists supposed to know the rules of Massachusetts' rotaries? What do you mean by "not yielding on the actual cirlce...?" (P. S. If Cape Cod is dependent upon tourists, calling us names doesn't seem nice or productive.)

    And, as we both know, Massachusetts drivers don't bother obeying any rules of the road let alone those in rotaries. On 128 it is common for drivers to travel in the narrow breakdown lane on your right during rush hour! Massachusetts drivers are rated #50 out of the 50 states by the insurance industry.

    My town in New Hampshire has about 3200 residents, and the State is making us put a rotary at a four way when we don't even have a traffic light in town. After about 7 at night a car passes by about once every two hours! Go figure.

  5. Rotaries (or "roundabouts", as they are called there) in Britain work just fine. They are just poorly designed here and people here are just too fucking stupid to know how to use them.

    Oh, and DC/NOVA suck. That too.

  6. you forgot the sad little rotary in Orleans/Eastham, though i don't even think there is a four-way intersection there. Rotaries work well if you know where you are going, but i don't think anyone in dc ever knows where they are going since the roads are basically retarded. how about a nice little grid like ny?

  7. you can blame it all on l'enfant that french fuck who designed this shitbox. It goes with the "european-ness" of the city which vanishes once you get over the 13 story limit on buildings and realize that the big hunt is a fucking shithole.

    Rusty, make another fucking vacation move for fuck sake.

  8. NH Girl,

    Rotaries all have the same rules. Yield before going on the circle, do not yield when you're actually on the circle. People from New Jersey will stop on the rotary, causing accidents

    As for MA drivers, I can't defend them. I'm 23 and I have 2 major at-fault accidents under my belt.

  9. I love the traffic circles, they separate the men from the boys. Tourists have no business driving in DC, get a damn cab.

  10. You're an idiot. Ward Circle is possible the EASIEST circle to navigate. Stay in your lane and just drive. What is the problem? If you make a mistake, why should I have to wait so your ass can make an illegal and usually dangerous turn? Go down the road, turn around and try again, bitch.

  11. Anonymous,

    "Stay in your lane and just drive." That is exactly what you can't do at Ward Circle! You need to go right to turn left. It's counter-intuitive and dangerous.

    I share your sympathies over tourists driving, but for a city that thrives on tourism, we don't make it easy for them.

  12. I've heard that rotaries/traffic circles/roundabouts, despite being annoying and confusing, cause very few traffic accidents as compared to traffic light intersections.
    That's why people continue to install them in newly built developments.
    But you're right, people have no idea how to use them. WHY DO PEOPLE CONSTANTLY STOP IN THE MIDDLE OF THE CIRCLE TO YIELD. That is exactly the opposite of what you're supposed to do.

  13. I laugh at the DC reconstruction project for Logan Circle where they removed the cirlce there about 10 years ago, realized it fucked up trafic flow even more, and now they're trying to restore the circle, which will no doub be just as crappy as all the other traffic light ridden cirlces here.

    I think DC city planners should be locked in a room with Krystal Koons for four days as punishment.

  14. I love the Sagamore Bridge rotary....except when I sit in 8 miles of traffic on Route 3 to get to it.

    Another fantastic Massachusetts rotary...where the freeway portion of 128 ends at a rotary with Route 127 in Gloucester. Nothing quite like high speeds and immediately finding yourself in a rotary.

  15. Rotaries make it wicked hard to steer and give the finger at the same time. Don't make me spill my beer!


  16. CAN WE ENJOY DC just for one day? The weather is absolutely PERFECT outside.

  17. in no way am I supporting the construction of the circles in the city but rather offering up just an interesting fact about their reason for being . . .

    when they were built, they were designed as a very covert defense system. whereas people who knew the city well (i believe referred to as men in another comment) could navigate them well . . . but the boys, also at that time known as the british would get lost ... hopelessly lost.

    so should a land attack be launched, the citizens of DC would have a system by which to confuse their enemies.

    i think its kinda cool.

  18. We should make the U.S.-Mexican border into a giant rotary.


  19. "We should make the U.S.-Mexican border into a giant rotary.

    --Matt "

    Matt, good suggestion. Given that it's 2,000 miles long that would logically mean that it would need to be 2,000 miles high as well, meaning for a rotary reaching into Colorado. Maybe that giant rotary would swallow the asshole "Minutemen" and their stupid Chevy Tahoes.

    -Captian Shithead

  20. Oh, did I hurt someone's feelings? I mean, given the conversation about how confounding rotaries are, it'd be better than a fence. I'm surprised I have to explain the humor, Capt. Shithead.

  21. One more thing. I apologize for saying anything hurtful and would not deign to lower the level of discourse set here by Rusty. By the way, I love hearing reactions from black people to white liberals--it cracks me up.

  22. C'mon irina.


  23. Thanks Rusty for the rules of rotaries. Massachusetts is the only place I've driven where there are rotaries.

  24. You're going north on Nebraska Avenue. Your goal to take a left hand turn on to Massachusttes (going towards the Cathedral).

    Perhaps your trouble with traffic circles is your geographic confusion. If you are heading North on Nebraska Avenue and want to go to the Washington National Cathedral, you turn RIGHT on Massachusetts Avenue, not left.

  25. Perhaps your confusion lies in pedantry.

    And Matt or "anonymous" I caught your humor and my tone was sardonic, but in your corner mate. Next time open your eyes and take off the fucking shit goggles.

    And Rusty make another fucking vacation movie.

  26. Tommy, you're right. My geography was wrong. I should have said "going West on Nebraska towards Sibley."

    It's a small error, but I feel like a fucking moron.

  27. Don't sweat it. I'm a native and the freakin' traffic circles (please don't call them "rotaries", that lends them way too much dignity) have always confused me.

    What I always tell newcomers is that the traffic in D.C. makes perfect sense -- if you're piloting a horse-drawn carriage.

  28. What I always tell newcomers is

    "get the fuck out, this town sucks shit!"

  29. I'm a mass girl and although mass drivers might not be able to drive according to NH people and anonymous others I will beg to differ. After living in Atlanta for three years, driving on 6 lane highways, I return home and whine that Mass. drivers drive WAY TOO SLOW...they go the speed limit, weird. I thought I was one of them but apparently the south has more road rage than us northerners, go figure that one out.

    On another note, rotaries are wonderful...the people that have balls go and get on with their lives and the people that suck at driving get into accidents or just sit there waiting for the end of the world...it's all about the guts or the balls...

    MASSHOLES for-ev-er (how embarassing)

  30. I'll defend DC on almost anything, but Ward Circle can suck my dick.


  31. The disease is spreading, feeding much faster on the cities farthest limbs - I was driving in the sticks up around Columbia/Clarksville yesterday, and to make the transition from 29 north to 32 east you have to drive through 3, count em, 3 traffic circles, one right after the next.

    cloumbians think they are L'enfant reborn.

    oh, and the tunnels under dupont were originally for trolleys/streetcars - and the circle was a turnabout. kinda cool really, until you realize the reason that they are now used for cars is that back in the day the car and oil companies went through nearly every US city/town and pulled up all the streetcar lines. They were later indicted for it, and fined a whoppping total of $3000 and forced to make no other reparations.


  32. the circles in this city totally rock - I consider them to be time warps, which allow you to shoot across town in record time. Sure it takes a little effort to figure them out, but once you do - what's the big fucking deal? Yeah I mean it's too bad for the first-timers, but you can't design the entire world for first-timers. I'm a lot more concerned about my fellow natives, and really if you can't master Ward Circle, or any of the acually complicated circles, in a couple attempts, you don't deserve a license. And really, no offense (sarcastic) but if you hate it here, move on. (I hated Seattle, I left; case closed.) You owe to yourself, and the rest of us here, to be where you want to be.

  33. Rotaries/roundabouts/driving circles have always been a bit nerve-wracking to me...and as a masshole I will say that people in DC are worse if not just as bad as MA drivers! What it is amusing to me is that no one here seems to understand the concept of having "the right of way" at an intersection, especially when making a left turn.
    Anyone else here miss Friendy's?

  34. the other day i was really annoyed with the tourists, so i decided to make up some t-shirts. you can find the first batch here. with any luck, they'll turn out alright, and i'll have more designs in a week or so.


  35. the other day i was really annoyed with the tourists, so i decided to make up some t-shirts. you can find the first batch here. with any luck, they'll turn out alright, and i'll have more designs in a week or so.


  36. AnonymousMay 01, 2006

    I *like* "rotaries" as you call them (never heard them called this before; is it a Mass thing?).

    And I agree that DC has messed them up. Too much control, too many lanes (you might have cited Dupont Circle, too).

    The right way to do it is like on Conn at the city line (no idea of the name). You pull up, get on, and get off. Works fine.

    Two minor points. While circles are good at more-than-4 intersections, judicious use of lights can work (check out any European city--I recommend Paris). Also, a circle can be good at even a 4-intersection, because it can speed up the traffic compared to lights.

  37. AnonymousMay 03, 2006

    Do you get as pissed when you're overseas driving around the circles that influenced this cities design centuries ago?