Forces that engage in the climate crisis have concentrated on the solutions that are most cost-effective. Cities have been tasked with managing their carbon emissions, and government has issued mandates that require buildings to become more energy efficient or rely on renewable energy. Driving has been banned.
What we’ve largely neglected is the possibility that transportation makes up nearly a quarter of our emissions. The key to reducing these emissions, it seems, is to get people where they want to go at the least possible energy cost.
But the other side of the issue is that “transportation-focused” solutions, such as charging stations for electric cars, have a trade-off that’s largely been overlooked. People often like their roads. And low-quality, high-fuel-use roads are energy-inefficient. But these roads also present a real threat to our climate. A study in Nature Climate Change highlights that the climate crisis requires us to balance energy efficiency, population, and mobility with a solution, and one that may only be workable if we manage our traffic.
For people in the cities on the Pacific, one solution to manage congestion is a roundabout. Roundabouts are low-stress stops that reduce overall vehicle energy use. Researchers suggest that green roundabouts cut road damage and accidents, lower noise levels, and help to save fuel. On the West Coast, roundabouts can be found in Seattle, San Francisco, and Monterey, California, and British Columbia. But fewer than 30% of the world’s current roundabouts meet the quality standards of the Roundabout Initiative (RI). The study went into more detail, noting that the lack of high-quality and consistently tested roadways leads to an undersupply of green roundabouts in many parts of the world.
Interactive map of road traffic roundabouts in 20 countries (via Nature Climate Change).
What this data means is that less efficient traffic systems aren’t just wasting energy; they’re also costing us money. A study of traffic roundabouts in London by the RI found that they could cost £700 per km less in terms of energy use, maintenance costs, and emissions emissions than intersections without roundabouts.
With data collected from roundabouts of all sizes, countries with clear regulatory frameworks can also start building these improvements. Roundabouts are beginning to take off in the areas surrounding a few major cities in the UK.
International interest in roundabouts has begun to pick up steam. In November 2018, the RI was recognized by the World Economic Forum as a “Disruptive Transformation”–an elite group of organisations that use their resources and influence to pursue disruptive innovations.
Some countries are taking action. Indonesia has built 1,100 green roundabouts since 2008, and Australia plans to update 10,000 more roundabouts, and Spain is targeting 1,700 such improvement projects through 2030. Japan is another country already well on its way, with 4,322 roundabouts installed in 2016. But this has yet to be achieved on the scale required to prevent further emissions loss from the transportation sector.
An estimated 90% of the world’s population lives within 100km of a green roundabout. Many are often the best performing intersections in a city because they reduce traffic waiting time and translate more into travel opportunities–both of which are important in an effort to reduce congestion.
Ultimately, green roundabouts address climate change by reducing carbon emissions and improving the movement of people. Not all of these solutions are set in stone, and it remains to be seen which other transportation solutions in the pipeline are the best for our environment. These other solutions are crucial to achieving the optimal outcomes. But there’s little reason to think that we can afford to lose this information to “ignorance is bliss” anymore. For our sake, let’s hope we can explore these other possible solutions before rushing to embrace the most obvious solution.