Bike commuters and traffic circles: Know the Rules


Over the next few months, I’m going to try to have some helpful posts that review he rules of the road that may be confusing or even unknown to a large number of cyclists, motorists and pedestrians.

After discussing the facts surrounding each, I will follow up with a post or two that will be more editorial in nature, discussing and demonstrating my experiences. The first item up is traffic circles.

Traffic circles

Traffic circles in B.C. are defined as intersections that have a central circular island that divert the flow of traffic, less than 20 m in diameter. They are similar to roundabouts, which are the same thing with the central island 30 m in diameter or larger. Don’t ask me what intersections with central circular islands with diameters between 20 m and 30 m are called. In Vancouver, traffic circles range in size from 4.5 m to 9 m in diameter.

Traffic circle

The City of Vancouver uses traffic circles as traffic calming elements in residential neighbourhoods. The intention is to reduce speeds and collisions at intersections while providing some beautification. You can visit the City’s traffic circle site to see their position, and to see how to request one for your neighbourhood.

In Kitsilano, traffic circles are used on many of the bike routes. On the Off-Broadway route through Kits (Burrard to Alma) there are traffic circles at 7th/Cypress, 8th/Vine, 8th/Larch, 8th/Trafalgar, and 8th/Blenheim.

There are only a few basic rules to remember when dealing with a traffic circle:

  1. Slow down. You don’t have to come to a stop before a traffic circle, but neither is it a chicane.
  2. Travel through the circle counter-clockwise. This means travel forward and turn to the right side of the island.
  3. Yield to traffic already in the circle. This means look left first and yield to traffic already there. If you arrive at the intersection at the same time as another vehicle, the vehicle to the right has right-of-way.

ICBC is a bit more verbose in their suggestions for traffic circles:

  1. Approach
    • Reduce your speed.
    • Watch for signs that may help you find your exit.
    • Watch for people using the crosswalk, and be ready to stop.
  2. Yield
    • Yield to traffic already in the roundabout that comes from your immediate left before you enter.
  3. Enter
    • Enter the roundabout to your right (a counter clockwise direction) when there is a gap in traffic and you feel it is safe to do so.
    • Continue until you reach your exit.
  4. Exit
    • Never come to a full stop in a roundabout unless traffic conditions require it.
    • Use your right turn signal to let other road users know where you plan to exit.
    • Exit at a slow speed.
    • As you exit, watch for people using the crosswalk, and be ready to stop.
    • If you miss your exit, keep going around the roundabout until you reach it again.


Further reading

Traffic circles, particularly those on bike routes in Vancouver, get lots of discussion. Recently there was a good article on, and a local bike commuter wrote an insightful blog post about them.

I too have strong opinions about the use and effectiveness of traffic circles. In a few weeks there will be another post discussing the pros and cons of these on the bike routes.

Last modified: January 14, 2012

8 Responses to " Bike commuters and traffic circles: Know the Rules "

  1. lauren says:

    THANK YOU FOR THIS!! OMG…everyday a the roundabout at 1st and Arbutus people seem soooo lost. They all enter at any point nearly causing accidents. Can someone post a giant sign there explaining what to do?! Seriously. SO annoying.

  2. So the incentive, in terms of right of way, is to get to the circle. This feels dangerous to me.

    Imagine two cars approaching at about the same time. The one on the left thinks he got there first, so is on the circle, so has right of way to continue. The one on the right thinks they arrived at the same time, so has right of way (because he’s on the right). Result: crash.

    It would be much simpler, imho, to just have one rule of “left”-of-way for traffic circles, instead of sometimes left, sometimes right. Everyone would know traffic circles are just these weird things where it’s the opposite. One rule: simple.

    Telling people they should slow works about as well as posted speed limits. Only road narrowing, obstacles and texture changes slow people.

  3. I second lauren in saying thanks for writing this though! Better designed streets and clearer rules will help everyone!

    I hope you’ll be covering how to turn on and off the downtown bike paths. To my mind two-way bike paths seem designed to maximise intersection conflict points!

  4. Phil says:

    Boo traffic lights. Yay traffic circles.

  5. runDRD says:

    @james- the same problem exists at a 4 way stop. When it looks like two cars might arrive at the same time, some one speeds up, then taps the brake to “stop” and rolls on through. traffic circles are really just more pragmatic 4-way stops.

  6. Dawn DeWitt says:

    As a new commuter in Vancouver this is crazy scary. I’ve lived and driven in Boston, the UK and Australia. In all these places you yield to the cars on the roundabout (here this translates to always yield left. It’s consistent! Here the different sizes and rules make the whole thing crazy and a friend was hit today at a roundabout because of the confusion. We really ought to campaign for one set of rules so that consistency makes everyone understand the rules. Having two sets of rules means people have to “guess” whether it’s a traffic circle or a roundabout. I’m looking out my window right now at a “circle” with a “roundabout” traffic sign, but it’s surely not 30 meters. Honestly, safety and consistency is the most important thing when dealing with drivers from many countries and subtle distinctions just don’t work!

  7. DriveSmartBC says:

    Traffic circles and roundabouts have yield signs for traffic entering them. This means that there is no need for traffic already in the circle to yield to the right if both arrive at the same time.