Are roundabouts the key to combatting pollution?

The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, released a statement this month announcing plans for transport infrastructure. The statement included references to reducing air pollution, although did not make clear exactly how the government would achieve this. Part of the government’s plans, however, focus on new investments in existing road infrastructure, including roundabouts.

What is interesting about this statement is that a connection seems to exist between a prevalence of roundabouts in urban spaces and a reduction in air pollution. A 2019 study, performed by scientists from Lancaster University in collaboration with the Birmingham Institute for Forest Research, found that cities such as Milton Keynes had significantly reduced air pollution compared to similarly-sized areas such as Luton. This could be the result of several factors: Milton Keynes has more frequent green spaces around its roads, and there may be a different ratio of private cars to public transport, but the study…suggests that roundabouts play a key role in reducing air pollution.

Why might this be? It could be because the central purpose of roundabouts, which is to ease traffic congestion at key junctions, results in smoother traffic flow, with fewer vehicles at a standstill with their engines running.

However, replacing dense intersections with roundabouts can be controversial. If not properly implemented a roundabout can do much more harm than good. For example, there are several roundabout systems in the UK that are reviled by the drivers who use them. Hemel Hempstead, also known as ‘the Magic Roundabout ’, usually tops the list, and the Haudagain roundabout in Aberdeen was recently named the worst in the UK.

Installing a new roundabout needs a detailed understanding of the behaviour of the region’s drivers and the amount of traffic expected to flow in and out in order to be effective at reducing pollution and controlling congestion. If the government is planning major changes to the nation’s infrastructure, those implementing the changes will need access to robust information about traffic and transport.

This sort of information is exactly what we offer at Road Data Services. Whether it’s a traffic survey, journey time survey, parking survey, or any other data collection, we can provide you with strong survey evidence to guide your decision making. To find out more, contact RDS today.

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