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Circular infrastructure: What goes around

“I MEAN, it’s round, how difficult can it be?” asks the front-desk attendant at the Renaissance Hotel in Carmel, exasperated, when asked whether visitors struggle to navigate the town’s many roundabouts. Carmel, just north of Indianapolis, has 70 of them—more than any other city in America. But while locals love them for their speed and efficiency, visitors are apprehensive. One recent out-of-towner was so terrified by the strange formations that he preferred to travel by taxi.The mayor, Jim Brainard, built the first roundabout in Carmel in 1997 after seeing them in Britain. Instead of a four-way intersection with traffic lights, a circular bit of road appeared. It was so successful that today Carmel is the roundabout capital of America, and the mayor plans to rip out all but one of his remaining 30 traffic lights.The modern, safe roundabout first entered service in Britain back in 1966, after it adopted a rule that at all circular intersections traffic entering had to give way, or “yield”, to circulating traffic. This innovation, along with the sloping curves of the entry and exit of a roundabout (which slow traffic down),…

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