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ROUND AND ROUND IN CIRCLES by Miles Downard

Date: 26 Jun 2013

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The general idea of a road was developed along the invention of wheeled "vehicles" which took place at the beginning of the Bronze Age - somewhere around 3000 BC. As the wheel developed from a solid wooden disk to a more elegant spoke arrangement, the wagons they were attached to became bigger or more widely used. This congestion spike required a larger road network and it wasn't long before a major trade road extended from the Persian Gulf to the Aegean Sea. Later the Romans built over 85 000km of roadway to maintain their empire.

None of this has any real bearing on what we know as a road today, because it was only in the 8th century AD that tarmac was first introduced to pave dusty streets, in Baghdad of all places, 3700 odd years after some poor sod bumbled down a gravel pathway towing the first loosely wheeled wagon.

Excuse all the time travel, however if you will bear with me and fast forward yourselves a thousand odd years to somewhere in the region of 1877. One wouldn't expect the French to be involved in anything quite as complex as roadway architecture, however it was none other than French architect Eugene Henard who introduced the very first one-way circular intersection, otherwise known as a traffic circle.

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Due to high accident rates and major congestion problems their use was largely discontinued until the 1960's rolled around and some clever blokes in the United Kingdom saved the Frenchman's blushes (once again) and developed the modern roundabout, arguably one of the most inspired pieces of roadway engineering since the very introduction of roads themselves.

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Due to high accident rates and major congestion problems their use was largely discontinued until the 1960's rolled around and some clever blokes in the United Kingdom saved the Frenchman's blushes (once again) and developed the modern roundabout, arguably one of the most inspired pieces of roadway engineering since the very introduction of roads themselves.

What's worse is that someone thought it clever to develop two separate types of traffic circles, as though one wasn't confusing enough for our poorly educated society to handle. You see the little ones operate much like a four way stop; only you don't actually have to stop. As long as you're across the dotted line first, you have right of way. The bigger ones are more conventional, whereby road users must yield to traffic approaching from the right.

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Not that complicated right? Well, people of South Africa, you have now been educated. Go forth and put your newly acquired wisdom into practice, let the humble traffic circle help ease our congested roads, rather than be the cause.

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