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Is it a traffic circle or roundabout?

What’s the main difference between a traffic circle and a roundabout?

Well, it looks like a correction needs to be made.

An astute and diligent reader pointed out that when I wrote about roundabouts, I included what I believed to be a roundabout in the Garibaldi Highlands neighbourhood.

But I was wrong, as those circular roundabout-looking things are often called traffic circles.

So, what’s the difference between a traffic circle and a roundabout? Let’s find out.

“A traffic circle is a raised island in the centre of an intersection,” writes the City of Surrey in an educational missive. “Drivers must go in a counter-clockwise direction in the circle and must signal when entering and exiting.”

Sounds a lot like a roundabout, eh? Here’s the catch!

“Traffic circles are smaller than roundabouts and are usually installed in residential neighbourhoods at low-traffic intersections,” according to the release.

Additionally, the centre island can be landscaped or made of coloured asphalt to increase attractiveness, but there may be no landscaping in too tight of spaces. 

So it seems that Squamish is home to more traffic circles like the ones in the Highlands than roundabouts, as another traffic circle is located at the intersection of Main Street and Fifth Avenue.

But, according to the District of Squamish, there’s no official title for these traffic obstacles in our little town.

“The District doesn’t typically differentiate between these two terms,” wrote a spokesperson for the District in an email to The Squamish Chief. “Each intersection is designed for the traffic flow and geometries of that intersection, and the traffic rules for drivers are identical regardless of the definition.”

As the District stated, the benefits of traffic circles do look awfully similar to the benefits of roundabouts.

According to the City of Surrey, in traffic circles, drivers first must slow down, which should reduce the frequency and severity of crashes plus reduce the number of drivers that are exceeding the speed limit. Next, they help provide right-of-way clarity. Lastly, they help reduce the most severe types of crashes, the right-angled and left-turn collisions.

So, thanks to the reader for pointing out the traffic circles in the Garibaldi Highlands — now we know the difference if we ever get asked at one of Squamish’s many trivia nights!


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