Columbus Circle, 1905. Image via fineprintnyc.
A traffic circle, also known as a roundabout or rotary, is a type of intersection where traffic moves in a circular pattern around a central island or hub. Vehicles entering the traffic circle must yield to vehicles already inside the circle, and the flow of traffic is regulated by yield signs or traffic signals. Traffic circles are designed to improve traffic flow and reduce the risk of accidents, as they eliminate the need for left-hand turns across oncoming traffic. They are commonly used in urban areas and can be found in many countries around the world.
Columbus Circle in Manhattan, NYC is the oldest traffic circle in America. The construction of Columbus Circle in New York City began in 1901 and was completed in 1905. The U.S. Department of Transportation Traffic states that traffic circles have been part of the transportation system in the United States since 1905 when the Columbus Circle designed by William Phelps Eno opened in New York City. The New Hampshire Department of Transportation recognizes Columbus Circle as the first traffic circle to be built in the United States. The Transportation Association Of Canada credits Columbus Circle as the first documented rotary.
Columbus Circle was initially built as part of a larger project to improve the city's transportation infrastructure and to beautify the area around Central Park. It was part of a major urban planning project that aimed to improve the city's traffic flow and provide more public spaces for residents. The circle was designed by William P. Eno, who was a pioneer in the field of traffic engineering. It was originally named "Grand Circle," but was later renamed in honor of Christopher Columbus. Columbus Circle has also been known as Library Circle (1895) and St. Mary’s Circle (1901).
Pre-1609: The area where Columbus Circle now stands was inhabited by Native American tribes, including the Lenape people. From 1609-1800s the Dutch and British colonized Manhattan and developed the island's infrastructure. This area was a rural area known as "Great Hill" until the 1800s, when it became a commercial district. In 1857 the New York City (NYC) government created Central Park and designated the area surrounding the future Columbus Circle as a part of it. American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted designed this standard roundabout in 1857 as part of a grander plan for Central Park.
In 1868 the city government renamed the area as "The Circle" and commissioned the creation of a statue to commemorate Christopher Columbus, which was to be placed in the center of the circle. In 1892 the statue, designed by Italian sculptor Gaetano Russo, was unveiled on Columbus Day, October 12th. The city's Board of Commissioners of Central Park selected the site of Columbus Circle for a new monument to Christopher Columbus, in honor of the 400th anniversary of his first voyage to the Americas. The monument was designed by Italian sculptor Gaetano Russo and was completed in 1894. The statue of Columbus stands atop a 70-foot granite column and faces south down Broadway.
In 2016 The Roundabout Appreciation Society named Manhattan’s Columbus Circle the world’s best. In 2018 the New York State Board of Historic Preservation voted unanimously to place the Christopher Columbus statue in the state and national registers for its historic and cultural significance. Today, Columbus Circle (America's oldest roundabout traffic circle) is a bustling commercial and transportation hub, featuring luxury hotels, high-end retail shops, restaurants, and cultural institutions, such as the Museum of Arts and Design and Jazz at Lincoln Center.