Mayor’s obsession: Driving in circles saves lives in Carmel, Indiana


By James Raia
RVers traveling toward Carmel, Indiana – heads up. You may be driving in a lot of circles since the city is the “Roundabout Capital of the World.” Carmel is located about 23 miles northeast of Indianapolis, the state’s capital.

Jim Brainard, the city’s long-time mayor, has been fascinated by roundabouts since he was a graduate student at Oxford University in England. He has overseen the building of 132 roundabouts in the 47-square-mile city. At least seven more are planned.

The first modern roundabout, built in 1909, is located in Letchworth, England.

“Roundabouts have reduced traffic fatalities by 90 percent in Carmel,” said Brainard, who has traveled to many countries to study roundabouts. “The U.S. average fatality rate per 100,000 people is 14. It tends to be higher in suburban areas because the roads are built wider for faster speeds. Indianapolis has done a little bit better than normal – 11.7 per 100,000. The average in Carmel is two.”

A roundabout (also called a circle, traffic circle, road circle, rotary, rotunda or island) is a circular intersection or junction in which road traffic is permitted to flow in one direction around a central island. The priority is typically given to traffic already in the junction.

Brainard has been Carmel’s mayor since 1996. The mayor has also consulted with many cities around the country about the benefits of roundabouts. He often cites safety. “With cars moving at 10-15 mph, a pedestrian who gets hit has a much better chance of surviving than if someone blows through a light or a stop sign at 50,” he said.

According to Brainard, a stoplight encourages drivers to increase their speed to get through an intersection. In a roundabout, he says drivers have to decrease their speed to 15 to 25 miles per hour. As a result, Brainard notes vehicle accidents involving occupant injuries requiring hospital visits have been reduced by more than 75 percent.

Modern roundabouts became more popular in the United States in the 1990s, much in part to Brainard. About 5,000 roundabouts are located throughout the country. Carmel has the most of any city by several-fold.

Not everyone is a believer. According to Wikipedia, the first modern roundabout in the United States was constructed in Summerlin, Nevada, in 1990. It dismayed many residents, and a local news program reported, “Even police agree, roundabouts can be confusing at times.”

Eighty years earlier, architect John McLaren designed one of the first American roundabouts for both autos and streetcars (trams) in the Hatchett Residence Park. It’s now named San Jose, California.

In many European countries, roundabouts are the rule, not the exception. France, by its latest official government tally, has more than 50,000 roundabouts. The United Kingdom has about 25,000 roundabouts.

James Raia, a syndicated columnist in Sacramento, California, publishes a free weekly automotive podcast and electronic newsletter. Sign-ups are available on his website, He can be reached via email:


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3 months ago

Brainard thinks every single intersection under his domain needs to be a roundabout, and he’s installed scores of them that are too small to handle trucks or longer vehicles (like motorhomes). Indiana Department of Transportation has also installed them as parts of interstate exits in cramped locations. A notorious one is in Jeffersonville, Indiana just before crossing I-65 into Louisville. Semis frequently get hung up on the circular exit because its radius is too tight.

A huge difference between most U.S. roundabouts versus the ones you encounter in Europe is signage. Approaching the average traffic circle in Europe you are confronted with a sign that illustrates the circle’s spokes and the name of the next landmark up the road from each one, or at least which one goes which direction. The majority of Brainard’s roundabouts (and most in the US) don’t have anything more informative than the name of each street, if that. You can’t stare at GPS on a roundabout.

3 months ago
Reply to  Chris

Just as an aside, Brainard didn’t have to look far for inspiration. One of the largest and oldest roundabouts in the U.S. is right in the middle of downtown Indianapolis, the “Circle City,” just 20 miles south of Carmel. It was designed in 1821 when the city was just an idea on paper.

5 months ago

I hate them with a passion. The first time I say rotary was when I got married and moved from Oregon to Massachusetts. They scared me because there were two lanes packed with cars. If you got in the inside lane sometimes you would have to go around a few times before you could move to the outside lane and exit.

People from back east have brought their ideas out west. I can deal with them in non-major road intersections but major roads are a nightmare. The built them with two lanes where the inside lane is allowed to cross in front of traffic on the outside lane to exit. Thankfully after many crashes they have corrected some of the problem. I still hate them. It has nothing to do with not knowing how to drive them – it has to do with the insanity and fear of some idiot hitting me. Good thing I grew up being taught defensive driving.

5 months ago

I like roundabouts as long as drivers are willing to learn how to use them. Not using turn signals inside the roundabout makes it a lot worse for anyone trying to navigate the circle. Then again, it seems there a lot of vehicles on the road with broken turn signals, anyway.

Mike Albert
5 months ago
Reply to  Marvin

In Florida, turn signals must be a very expensive option. Most cars that I’m behind, didn’t have them installed. Why else would the driver not use them????

5 months ago
Reply to  Mike Albert

Mike, you are right. Never use a turn signal down here to signify lane change. Don’t even use to make a turn because you may change your mind and go straight anyway, even if you are in a designated turn lane. It was not this way when we moved down here in 1969, but it seems that we grow idiots down here. Heck, cops down here don’t even use turn signals. Drives me nuts.

Jim Stein
5 months ago

And when you visit, be sure to pronounce the name correctly. It’s Carmel, like the candy not “Car-mel” like in California. Carmel by the sea, Carmel by the corn.
Having lived in Britain I have seen the positive effect that traffic circles have on flow. We’re building lots of them in my community.

5 months ago

Good to know, stay out of Carmel IN, I hate roundabouts.

5 months ago

I’ve been to Carmel and driven thru some of those round-a-bouts. They are pretty maddening after the first few. I might go back to Carmel to visit friends but the round-a-bouts are a good reason to avoid that city. There are just too many.

Charlene Dixon
5 months ago

The article stating the first traffic circle built in the US was in 1990 is incorrect. There was a traffic circle in Long Beach, California In the 1960’s. Don’t know if it’s still there or not or when it was built.

Charlene Dixon
5 months ago
Reply to  Charlene Dixon

Guess Wikipedia was wrong.

Mike Albert
5 months ago
Reply to  Charlene Dixon

I think it said, “modern” round about. New Jersey had them on US 1 (before I-95 was finished) in the 1960’s. Then spent millions of dollars replacing them with lighted intersections. Now in 2019, some towns in NJ have replaced the intersections with circles, calling them “round-abouts”. Guess that makes the rise in taxes easier to swallow.