Roundabout Boulder – A Tutorial

I drive to work almost every day down Pine Street in downtown Boulder between Folsom and Broadway, and each day I realize how lucky I am to live and work in such a wonderful community. However, I think I might need to find a different route because almost every day I arrive at work irritated by drivers on Pine Street who don’t know how to negotiate the traffic circles! After stewing about this for some time I thought … why not take this opportunity to use our blog to educate and inform Boulder drivers on exactly how to drive through these little roundabouts. Then we’ll all be safer AND in a better mood!

In some cities, small traffic circles have been constructed in the middle of residential intersections to calm neighborhood traffic. Occasionally, these small circles are called roundabouts or mini-roundabouts. Circles of this type are common in Seattle, WA and Boulder, CO. Definitions of traffic calming vary, but they all share the goal of reducing vehicle speeds, improving safety, and enhancing quality of life. What we have on Pine Street are known as traffic circles, not roundabouts. Per traffic circles are raised islands, placed in intersections, around which traffic circulates. They are good for calming intersections, especially within neighborhoods, where large vehicle traffic is not a major concern but speeds, volumes, and safety are problems. B efore the installation of these roundabouts on Pine Street one could observe cars blazing down the street in this otherwise quiet residential neighborhood.

The towns of Erie and Superior also have traffic circles, mini-roundabouts, or roundabouts, so if you drive anywhere in Boulder County it might be a good idea to be familiar with how to negotiate these traffic calming road features.

Okay, so now for the HOW TO portion of this post. The city of Overland Park, KS has a nice little .pdf on their website with a diagram that illustrates how to drive a roundabout. Click on the link to see for yourself or just read on …

  1. Slow down as you approach, be prepared to YIELD, and check the crosswalk for pedestrians and cyclists.
  2. Look to your left and check for vehicles already in the traffic circle – vehicles already in the circle have the right of way. Wait for them to flow through and then when there is a gap in the circulation it is your turn, so go ahead and pull into the circle!
  3. Once you are in the traffic circle YOU have the right of way. Herein lies my big pet peeve – if you are already IN the traffic circle, don’t stop! Keep on moving (with caution of course). If you stop you cause a bottleneck for everyone. You don’t have to stop and let new cars in the circle – why? Because YOU have the right of way – you were there first! Of course if there is an irresponsible driver who you think clearly intends to disregard traffic circle protocal then by all means slow down or stop to avoid an accident. Otherwise, keep on truckin’!
  4. As you approach your exit put on your right turn signal, and then exit the traffic circle.

Now, what if you and another driver arrive at the traffic circle at the exact same time, but at difference entry points? According to the driver on the left should always yield to the driver on the right. The same rules apply for traffic circles as for regular intersections. For instance, if you reach an uncontrolled intersection (i.e. traffic circle) at close to the same time, the vehicle who actually reached the intersection last is the driver who must yield the right of way. If you reach the intersection at the same time, the driver on the left should always yield the right of way.

Congratulations – You survived Traffic Circles 101. Happy driving Boulder!

Disclaimer – I am NOT an expert on traffic circles, or traffic laws in Colorado or anywhere else. For information specific to Colorado please consult the State of Colorado, Department of Revenue, Division of Motor Vehicles Colorado Driver Handbook. Page 16 has information on Right of Way. Content in this blog post was obtained via research on the websites mentioned or is my opinion only.

Pam Metzger
Director of Relocation and Business Development
Colorado Landmark, Realtors
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