By Ken Jennings. Photos: Getty.
There's one thing that flummoxes Americans overseas even more than the language and the currency and the metric system: the dreaded roundabout. These circular road interchanges are commonplace in many parts of the world; France alone has more than 30,000 of them. But American drivers prefer traffic lights, even though studies show that roundabouts are 90 percent safer when it comes to preventing fatal accidents. In 2013, the British Roundabout Society actually awarded its coveted "Best Roundabout" award to Columbus Circle in New York City, a big step up for American roundabouts, but Columbus Circle isn't the biggest roundabout in the world. Malaysia makes that claim—to the annoyance of patriotic residents of Trinidad and Tobago.
Malaysia's city of the future rises from the jungle. Almost 30 years ago, Malaysia's longtime prime minister Mahathir Mohamad announced an ambitious plan to build a futuristic metropolis from the palm-oil plantations of the Malay Peninsula. Kuala Lumpur would remain Malaysia's legal capital, but all government offices would move out to Putrajaya, a massive new planned city to the south. A second new space-age city next door, built to attract technology investment, would be called (this is real) Cyberjaya.
The gardens of Putra Perdana Park are the city's highest point. On a low hill overlooking a man-made lake is the lushly landscaped parkland at Putrajaya's center. The Istana Melawati is a royal palace for Malaysia's elected monarch Muhammad V, when he needs a getaway from Kuala Lumpur. The gleaming chrome Mercu Tanda landmark, at the center of the park, offers a panoramic view of the city. And the Putrajaya Shangri-La is the new city's most luxurious hotel.
This utopia is the "island" in the middle of a huge traffic circle. The whole complex is girded by the Persiaran Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah, Putrajaya's main thoroughfare. It's an ellipse that also passes by the prime minister's green-domed office complex and the city's enormous mosque. And because traffic flows in only one direction along this egg-shaped route, it's technically a roundabout. In fact, it's the world's biggest roundabout, an astonishing two miles around.
Trinidad's rival roundabout has one little problem. The government of Trinidad and Tobago has disputed the Putrajaya Roundabout's title, using its Facebook page to boost the claim of Queen's Park Savannah. This park, in the center of the Trinidadian capital of Port-of-Spain, is also surrounded by a perimeter road, which was made one-way in the late 1970s to alleviate rush hour traffic. The park's 2.3-mile circumference is indeed a little longer than the Putrajaya Roundabout, but there's one problem: The Caribbean "traffic circle" isn't anything like a circle. In fact, to do a full loop, you'd have to turn no fewer than five 90-degree corners. It isn't really a roundabout if it isn't round, is it? Even an American would know that.
This story originally appeared on Conde Nast Traveler.
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