See the Swirling Glory of Britain's 7-Circle Magic Roundabout


See How an Insane 7-Circle Roundabout Actually Works Conde Nast: Wired
See How an Insane 7-Circle Roundabout Actually Works Conde Nast: Wired

There's a certain hesitation many Americans may feel when they arrive at a traffic circle. "So... I do... what now?" But what's uncommon in one country is celebrated in another, and such is the case with one of the largest traffic circles in the world — the Magic Roundabout in Swindon, England.

Designed by traffic engineer Frank Blackmore and built in 1972, this massive roundabout may look like chaos at first glance, but there's serious planning behind it. The traffic feature's made up of five smaller clockwise roundabouts, one central counter-clockwise roundabout, and the overall circle of the entire design.

The Magic Roundabout is the official name for the massive ring junction.
The Magic Roundabout is the official name for the massive ring junction.
dickbauch/Wikimedia Commons

As drivers approach the ring junction, they're able to turn either left or right depending on where they're going and whether traffic's particularly heavy or light in one part of the circle or another. And as the above Wired video explains, the Magic Roundabout offers drivers a variety of routes to get to any given destination — lessening traffic by creating a more efficient flow.

Originally called County Islands, the Magic Roundabout picked up its nickname after the introduction of a children's TV show of that name, and the moniker was officially changed — it even shows up on street signs — in the 1980s.

After the introduction of the traffic feature more than 40 years ago, the city of Swindon has seen accidents drop at that intersection even as traffic has increased. That's in line with the roundabout trend — a 2010 report found that roundabouts decreased both the instances of vehicle-to-vehicle collisions as well as accidents involving pedestrians.

The vintage cars in the video above all converged on the Magic Roundabout to celebrate Swindon's 175th anniversary. And while this particularly circle isn't that old, the Magic Roundabout has long occupied a place in British popular culture; it allegedly inspired the 1982 song "English Roundabout" from New Wave band XTC: