Illogical Circles of Death

Growing up in wide-open states of Texas and Tennessee has its advantages, but the lack of preparation for driving in a congested city isn’t one of them. Anyone who’s ridden with me as I try to parallel park the Aztek can attest to that. D.C.’s traffic circles are a second obstacle I’d never learned to maneuver. On first moving here, it amazed me that people managed every day to travel unscathed through these illogical circles of death. I eventually concluded that that was exactly the reason why they worked: with everyone equally confused about what the heck they’re doing, they drive extra carefully and thereby avoid disaster.

Alex Tabarrok points to this article in Wired explaining how this way of thinking is changing the way planners design roads. By making drivers rely more on their own judgments and interactions instead of rule-based signs, traffic can be made more efficient, safe, and pedestrian-friendly.

Illogical circles of death? More like welcoming roundabouts of spontaneous order.


  1. Chad says:

    You mentioned the term roundabout, which is British for Illogical Circle of Death. Except that in London cars have the right-of-way, which makes life interesting for pedestrians over there — particularly the American tourists who already have trouble figuring out to look right instead of left for the traffic. Also no one in London drives an Aztek. Actually no one outside of your apartment drives an Aztek, but that’s beside the point. I don’t know what they call roundabouts in France or Spain but they have them in those countries as well. You may be aware of the 12-lane roundabout encircling the Arc de Triumphe in Paris, which is one of the few places on earth the small print on your auto insu rance tells you that you’re not covered. But even though roundabouts would seem to be just as dangerous regardless of country, Americans seem to be uniquely incapable of driving fast through one. Perhaps we are a bit too liberal in issuing driver’s licenses like candy. Perhaps we are the only ones dumb enough to routinely back the roundabouts up by giving them 12 entry lanes and then backing the whole thing up with stop lights (read: DuPont Circle). Or perhaps it’s just that it only takes three transplant Texans driving oversized vehicles to fill a D.C. roundabout — which could have been the punch line for a great joke, incidentally.

    Interesting article. Interesting enough to provoke a handful of incoherent ruminations, anyway.

  2. Michael says:

    Adam Smith, of Wealth of Nations fame, would be proud.

    Apparently, the Invisible Hand lives on, even today.

  3. Joel Fagin says:

    I’m thinking just a giant slab of concrete and everyone for themselves demolition derby style.

  4. Justin Holmes says:

    Having spent the first 24 years of my life in Tennessee, I can say getting used to parking on the street all the time here in Eastern PA has been a challenge too. So, you’re not alone Jacob.


  1. DRT says:

    Safety Through Chaos

  2. Not That says:

    Americans vs. Europeans

    Wired has a great article about the revolution in traffic and roadway design. My favorite part is where the Dutch guy walks backwards into oncoming traffic, only to have the cars slow and ease around him. That’s how things are…

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