Roundabout rules of the road

By Ben Moger-Williams
Observer staff

Roundabouts in Vermont are as rare as catamounts, but that may not be the case forever. A major road revamp in Winooski has resulted in a huge roundabout replacing the old, signaled intersection. And last week, Vermont Agency of Transportation Secretary Dawn Terrill announced that two of the four alternatives to the Circumferential Highway in Williston include a series of roundabouts on Vermont Route 2A. The intersection roundabouts would conceivably ease traffic problems between Interstate 89 and the Five Corners in Essex Junction.

Williston does have one roundabout – in Maple Tree Place – and while police say there have been no accidents reported in the roundabout, the area is quite congested, especially around the holidays, and sometimes confuses motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.

VTrans spokesman Ian Grossman said the Maple Tree Place roundabout is much smaller-scale than anything that would be constructed on Vermont Route 2A. “The factors would be significantly different on a major roadway,” Grossman said. “Not all intersections are created the same.”

Nevertheless, many Vermonters do not know how to navigate even a small roundabout safely and legally. In advance of the holiday season, keep these factors in mind as you navigate through Maple Tree Place.

The roundabout is composed of three main components. The “circulatory roadway” is the main, central part of the roundabout. The “legs” are the four roads that approach the central circulatory roadway. And the “splitter islands” are the triangular dividers in the legs that are designed to clearly divide entry and exit lanes around the perimeter of the circulatory roadway.

For vehicles

  • Reduce speed, keep to the right of the splitter island, and wait for an acceptable gap before entering the circulatory roadway.
  • Traffic always turns to the right, into and out of the roundabout, and moves in a counterclockwise direction.
  • Use your turn signal when exiting, but not when entering.
  • Vehicles within the roundabout should not stop except to avoid a collision. Once inside, you have the right of way over entering traffic.
  • Never pass any other vehicle inside the roundabout.
  • When an emergency vehicle is approaching, exit the roundabout and pull over after you have passed the splitter island.

Police say that many drivers assume all traffic on Maple Tree Place Road has the right of way. But actually traffic entering the roundabout from any direction has the right of way, as long as the driver can safely enter the roundabout ahead of any vehicle approaching from a different direction.


For cyclists

Low-speed, single-lane roundabouts such as in Maple Tree Place should not present much difficulty for cyclists, according to police. When navigating the roundabout, cyclists should:

  • Merge into the travel lane before the bike lane ends.
  • Ride as if driving in a car, traveling about 10-15 mph.
  • Claim the lane, and don’t hug the curb. Ride in the middle of the lane.


For pedestrians

  • People on foot should be extra cautious when trying to cross a roundabout.
  • Walk around the perimeter of the roundabout, never walk through it.
  • Cross the roundabout legs about one-vehicle length away from the circulatory section.
  • Look and listen for approaching traffic.
  • Use the splitter islands. That way you can cross only one direction of traffic at a time.