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GOING IN CIRCLES: The rules of the roundabout road

By Dave Jones on September 16, 2011 in University News


1. Slow down. Obey traffic signs.
2. Yield to pedestrians and bicyclists.
3. Yield to traffic on your left already in the roundabout.
4. Enter the roundabout when there is a safe gap in traffic.
5. Keep your speed low within the roundabout.
6. As you approach your exit, turn on your right turn signal.
7. Yield to pedestrians and bicycles as you exit.

2-LANE ROUNDABOUTS: In general, if you want to make a left turn, you should be in the left lane or other lanes that are signed and marked as left-turn lanes. If you want to make a right turn, you should be in the right lane or other lanes that are signed and marked as right-turn lanes. If you want to go straight, observe the signs and arrows to see which lane is correct.

If you have not entered the roundabout, pull over and allow emergency vehicles to pass.
2. If you have entered the roundabout, continue to your exit, then pull over and allow emergency vehicles to pass.
3. Avoid stopping in the roundabout.

Source: Wisconsin Department of Transportation


In conjunction with the new roundabout, the campus is taking the opportunity to rename the southernmost sections of California Avenue. These two sections of road, as most people in the campus community are well aware, do not connect to the northern portion of California Avenue, between Hutchison Drive and Russell Boulevard.

The southernmost section — running across the arboretum waterway — is more often associated with La Rue Road. Which is awfully confusing when you are trying to give directions from Old Davis Road to the core campus: "Turn onto California and go across the bridge, then take a quick left onto La Rue."

So, for clarity, the short piece of California Avenue connecting Old Davis Road and La Rue Road will now be known as ... La Rue Road. Therefore, in giving directions, you can say: "Turn onto La Rue Road, cross the bridge and stay on La Rue as it turns left and winds around to the core campus." With this change, La Rue now extends from Old Davis Road in the south to Russell Boulevard in the north.

Along with the renaming will come better signage at the California-La Rue junction, or what used to be the California-La Rue junction, north of the arboretum waterway, where northbound traffic can turn left (to stay on La Rue Road) or go straight (on a dead-end street that runs alongside Watershed Sciences, Earth and Physical Sciences, Academic Surge, and Facilities Management). This portion of California Avenue is now called Crocker Lane, named after the same Crocker in Crocker Nuclear Laboratory, which is inside the newly named Jungerman Hall.

Our newest roundabouts — one on Old Davis Road and two on Hutchison Drive near UC Davis West Village — have me going in circles.

They get me where I’m going, like they’re supposed to, without traffic signals.

But the roundabouts also have me circling back to Modesto and the time 10 years ago when The Modesto Bee, where I worked then as an editor, published a graphic with cars and arrows — to illustrate how to drive in a traffic circle. I laughed when we put this in the paper: Why in the world do we need a drawing to show something so simple as driving counterclockwise?

I still have that graphic, having cut it out of the paper as soon as it came off the press. I laminated the clipping and wore it around my neck on a Modesto Bee lanyard, explaining to my colleagues in the newsroom: “I’ll need this if I get stuck in a roundabout and don’t know what to do!”

So you can imagine why I chuckled (again) when my boss, Associate Vice Chancellor Mitchel Benson, asked me if Dateline UC Davis needed to run a story on how to drive in a roundabout — especially considering that the Old Davis Road roundabout is so heavily used, situated as it is at the campus’s southern entry, and connecting with California Avenue, which leads to the core campus. See box for California Avenue’s new name.

“Roundabouts are counterintuitive,” Benson said. “Normally, we yield to cars on our right. But, in a roundabout, you yield to cars on your left.”

I said I didn’t think we needed a story (or a graphic), that maybe a picture or two would do.

That afternoon, or maybe it was the next day, I found myself driving on Old Davis Road shortly after the construction crew had opened the traffic circle for the first time.

And guess what? I forgot to look to my left until the last second, and I found myself hitting the brakes hard to keep from smashing into a car that had the right of way.

OK, so maybe we need a story after all! This time my boss laughed.

Yield to the cars on your left

I dashed upstairs in Mrak Hall to talk with Matt Dulcich, who works on transportation issues for Administrative and Resource Management.

“One of the paramount rules in a roundabout is yielding to the cars that are already in the traffic circle,” he said. “That means looking to your left.”

Another rule: Slow down! Slow way down! You need to have time to look for cars that may be approaching from the left, and you need to be prepared to stop. When you see a safe opening, merge into the roundabout.

"Sometimes you won't need to stop, sometimes you will," Dulcich said.

Imagine, if you will, that the roundabout has traffic signals. "You don't have an absolute green, and you don't have an absolute red," Dulcich said. "Rather, you need to carefully apply good judgment prior to proceeding."

The roundabout, and its narrow, curved approaches, are meant to “calm” the traffic, Dulcich said, to slow it down — for the safety of the people in the cars, and for the bicyclists and pedestrians who are crossing Old Davis Road, most of them going to and from the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science.

Bicyclists may ride through the roundabout, Dulcich said, or dismount and use the crosswalk just east of the roundabout.

Besides calming the traffic, the roundabout is expected to ease traffic congestion on Old Davis Road at California Avenue. Previously, southbound traffic on California came to a stop sign at Old Davis Road, while the traffic on Old Davis Road went by uninterrupted. This led to backups on California, particularly around 5 p.m. as people left the core campus and tried to turn right or left onto Old Davis Road.

But the congestion also had started to become a problem at other times, the result of the continuing development of the campus’s south entry. Besides the RMI, the area comprises the Graduate School of Management, the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, the Buehler Alumni and Visitors Center, the UC Davis Conference Center and the Hyatt Place hotel, all since 1992.

Campus planners considered signals, but said the roundabout will be safer and more efficient — not to mention more attractive with landscaping at the center and around the circle.

“A roundabout can move more traffic, without red lights,” Dulcich said, “and the severity of crashes is a lot less, with cars going around the circle at 15 miles per hour.”

Single- and double-lane roundabouts

Roundabouts, of course, are nothing new at UC Davis. But most of them see little vehicular traffic. They are in the core campus, where most private traffic is prohibited.

So, for many drivers, the roundabout on Old Davis Road may present a new driving situation — all the more reason to take note of the roundabout rules.

And after you understand the workings of the single-lane roundabout on Old Davis Road, you can start studying up on the two-lane roundabouts on Hutchison Drive near UC Davis West Village.

“The important thing is to choose your lane before you get to the roundabout, based on whether you are turning right, going straight ahead or turning left,” Dulcich said.

Signs before each roundabout tell you which lane is for what movement. And, remember, not all roundabouts are the same.

For example, as you leave the core campus on Hutchison Drive, once you are across Highway 113, your first roundabout is in what used to be a T intersection. The sign before the roundabout advises that the right lane is for the first exit (onto Hutchison Drive), and the left lane is for the first exit or the second exit (onto Campbell Road).

“If you are in the right lane, you have to turn right,” Dulcich said. “If you decide to keep going round the circle, you run the risk of crashing into a car on your left, if that car decides to make a right turn.”

The second roundabout, closest to West Village, offers four options: You can turn right or go straight to enter West Village; turn left to continue on Hutchison; or make a U-turn.

“Pay attention to the signs,” Dulcich said. 

Dave Jones, editor of Dateline UC Davis, is driving through roundabouts with a new sense of caution — and apologizing to his former colleagues at The Modesto Bee for ever doubting them.

Media contact(s)

Dave Jones, Dateline, 530-752-6556,