Symbol of Malaise or Traffic Amenity? The French Go Round and Round

ABBEVILLE, France — Each day, about 65,000 automobiles cruise by means of the middle of Abbeville, passing by its Gothic church, Metropolis Corridor and rows of crimson brick homes, with many drivers on their option to the English Channel a couple of dozen miles away.

However they by no means cease for a crimson mild. None exist on this city of about 25,000 folks. As a substitute, drivers financial institution, swerve and loop their method by means of site visitors circle after site visitors circle.

Their ubiquity in Abbeville is an excessive instance of France’s unabashed embrace of the roundabout, present in abundance all through the nation and extensively credited for making roads safer and fewer clogged.

Even in Abbeville, on a latest morning, employees in fluorescent orange vests and arduous hats have been breaking floor on one more site visitors circle, as automobiles have been backed up by the development.

There are not any official statistics, however estimates of the overall variety of site visitors circles in France vary from 20,000 to 50,000. In the USA — about 18 occasions greater and 5 occasions extra populous than France — the determine is closer to 5,000.

For some, the roundabout, a concept imported from Britain in the 1970s and quickly spread by the firm hand of the French state, embodies the unchecked spending of taxpayer money on pet projects by government officials, especially mayors, who in the 1980s took over road management from the central government.

It was once the site of a sugar refinery so large that in May 1940, after German bombs set it on fire, 35,000 tons of sugar were transformed into caramel, sending residents rushing into the street with pots and pans to scoop up the precious syrup.

Like many of northern France’s former industrial powerhouses, all that remains today of that factory is a single, giant smokestack.

On a recent visit, there were no Yellow Vests in sight at the roundabout. Their protests have been tamped down by a combination of government concessions and police repression at protest sites. And the focus of worker anger in France has switched of late to the plans of President Emmanuel Macron to streamline the nation’s convoluted pension system.

Whatever anyone thinks of roundabouts as symbols of an ailing France, the residents of Abbeville concede that, in practical terms, they make life on the road easier. Even during the summer, with seaside-bound vacationers from around the region using the city’s streets and bridges over the Somme River, the roundabouts keep cars moving.

“I didn’t wake up one morning and say to myself, ‘What if I removed all the traffic lights?’” said Nicolas Dumont, the mayor of Abbeville. “It’s a very pragmatic policy.”

To cut down on the noise, traffic jams and fender benders occurring at one intersection, Mr. Dumont decided in 2010 to turn the troublesome spot into a roundabout. It solved the problems. Ten more traffic circles followed. In October, the city’s only remaining traffic light was sawed down.

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