Hobbled for years, Dolphin Roundabout fully reopened to improve traffic

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The Dolphin Roundabout has been reopened in North Pattaya.
The Dolphin Roundabout has been reopened in North Pattaya.

After years of being crippled, Pattaya’s Dolphin Roundabout has been restored to its original working design.

Pattaya blocked off lanes of the landmark traffic circle in 2015 to prevent vehicles from circumnavigating the roundabout, arguing that it would improve traffic flow. In fact, it made congestion worse.

It has taken four years, but the light bulb finally went on for traffic planners and police who now have fully reopened the traffic circle for most vehicles.

Traffic police inspector Pol. Maj. Aruth Sapanon said Feb. 9 that large vehicles – specifically tour buses – will be barred from the roundabout during evening rush hour on weekdays and after 7 p.m. on weekends. Drivers of smaller cars and trucks and motorcycles can go around in circles to their hearts’ delight.

Aruth said the reopening is conditional and will be evaluated again at the end of next month.

For Pattaya authorities, the reopening of the traffic circle marks a long-overdue realization that roundabouts – a design dating back to 1768 in the U.K. – have been scientifically proven to be more efficient and safer than convention intersections. They allow more cars to pass through at a time and studies have shown they reduce injury accidents by 75 percent.

Of course, those studies were done in the West where drivers are better educated and policed. Thailand, by contrast, has the eighth-highest road-death toll in the world.

Pattaya’s solution to the dual problem of careless, aggressive drivers and poor traffic policing was to place flower bases across lanes, making it impossible to circumvent the rotary. Once the barriers went up, so did congestion levels.

Sanit Boonmachai, at the time a city councilman, blasted the move a failure. Cars coming from Naklua were blocked from going around the circle to go to Beach Road and instead had to continue 400 meters to the intersection near Big C and turn there. Vehicles coming from Second Road met cars coming from North Road with everyone having to reduce speed to go around the partial circle to the right in order to head to Naklua Road or turn left at the Dusit Thani Hotel.

Rather than blame their own poor engineering or insufficient traffic enforcement, authorities claimed there were too many people in Pattaya for a roundabout, despite the fact they’re specifically designed for high-volume traffic areas. So, in 2017, officials proposed just ripping out the entire roundabout and putting in at least four sets of traffic lights.

That plan died a quiet death in August that year. But the barriers remained.

However, the opening of the Terminal 21 shopping mall at North and Phettrakul roads last year made that untenable. From the mall’s opening day, traffic has been impossible and officials finally realized forcing cars from the traffic circle to make U-turns there was making things worse.

Tour buses will still be banned from the circle during rush hours as, officials said, they have trouble navigating the circle in heavy traffic.