When it comes to epic rivalries, it's not often that Port-of-Spain finds itself matched up against Putrajaya, Malaysia, a city of 68,000 people just south of Kuala Lumpur.But for years, the two cities have been butting heads in a little-known campaign to lay claim to a very bizarre international recognition: the world's largest traffic roundabout.
In Port-of-Spain, at least, it's always been a fishy assertion, a rumour repeated so often and in so many places that it becomes an accepted part of local mythology: the roads surrounding Queen's Park Savannah, locals say, make up the largest traffic roundabout in any city on the planet.
"I'm not sure where the claim came from. We never claimed it to be true," said Dr Trevor Townsend, senior lecturer in transportation engineering at the University of the West Indies, and one of the engineers who made the controversial decision to turn the savannah's surrounding streets into a one-way ring road 35 years ago."I guess these things happen in folklore."
It's a claim that has been repeated in all manner of literature: travel guides, tourism blogs, and even in a Facebook post by the T&T Government itself.
Citizens for Conservation T&T, a conservation advocacy group, names the savannah as the world's largest roundabout on their Web site, and attributes that fact to the Guinness World Records–though the Guinness World Records online database makes no mention of any distinction for largest "roundabout," "rotary," or "traffic circle." The company did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
And with its 3.7 km circumference, according to the Web site MapMyRun, the savannah does indeed seem like a pretty sizeable roundabout.The problem: Malaysia says it has the world's largest traffic roundabout, too. It's an oval-shaped road in the centre of the city, known as the Persiaran Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah. (Perhaps Malaysia can win the award for the world's longest roundabout name.)
The "largest traffic circle" moniker has been ballyhooed by Malaysian government officials on Twitter, and it's been publicised on the tourism blog Expat Go Malaysia, as well as several automotive news Web sites.Officials in Putrajaya's city planning department did not return requests for comment.
Here's the thing: the savannah definitely has a larger circumference, if only by a little. The Putrajaya traffic circle is 3.4 km, just a few hundred metres shy of the savannah's perimeter, according to MayMyRun.But others suggest that the savannah, with its strange 'L' shape, should not really count as a roundabout at all. Putrajaya's perfectly oval-shaped thoroughfare should earn the title by default, they say, if only because it is as round as the name suggests.
US traffic engineer shockedover claims for 'largest trafficcircle' moniker
But one expert, US-based traffic engineer Mark Johnson said he's shocked that either city would promote the "world's largest traffic roundabout" title at all."It's typically not something someone would want to claim," Johnson said.Johnson, who specialises in thedesign and analysis of roundabouts all over the United States, said he had never heard of a city claiming to have the largest traffic roundabout, and he was not aware of any organisation that would keep track of such an honorific.
Most cities design their roundabouts to be as small as possible–not large, circular super-highways. The safety benefits of a roundabout largely come from its small size, he explained: when the circle is tight, cars are forced to slow down to about 30 kilometres per hour, which means that any collisions that do occur are usually fender benders, rather than crashes serious enough to cause injury.
"This idea of some city having 'the world's largest'–it very well may be. But my response to that would be...in terms of a modern roundabout, you don't particularly want them to be that big," Johnson said.
A point of pride–Townsend,UWI transportation engineer
Even so, UWI's Townsend maintains that the traffic design of the roads surrounding the savannah should be considered a point of pride to Port-of-Spain-ers, regardless of whether it counts as the largest traffic circle or not.Back in the 1970s, the roads leading around the savannah ran in both directions, with only one lane travelling each way.
It was, Townsend recalled, a confusing mess. Four-way intersections at each corner of the savannah prevented traffic from flowing, especially as cars waited in queues to make right-hand turns and blocked other vehicles from continuing straight or turning left.
Officials decided that they would attempt to make the roads surrounding the savannah into one-way streets that would funnel traffic in a continuous direction–a last-ditch effort to alleviate the chokehold of rush hour traffic that struck downtown Port-of-Spain twice each day. At first, drivers were perplexed."People would pass and say, 'Y'all did nonsense!' We did get skeptics," Townsend recalled.
"But by and large, the motorists had been suffering for so long that they were willing to give it a try."Back when the direction of traffic was first altered, engineers thought that the one-way fix would likely last for only five years before traffic got as bad as it had been before the change was enforced. But over the years, he says, he has been pleasantly surprised by how well the configuration continues to guide traffic relatively efficiently.
"Thirty-five years later, it pretty much still runs–it's very rare that you find Queen's Park Savannah locking up," Townsend said."That, to me, is a testimony of how successful it has been."