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Frank Blackmore

Frank Blackmore, the road traffic engineer who pioneered the mini-roundabout, died on 5 June 2008. He was 92.

The Times goes into most detail about his early life in Algeria (where his missionary father set up an eye hospital) and his first steps along the engineering career path:

An early passion for engineering emerged, encouraged by his Swiss mother, Clarisse, who was delighted at the little devices he invented to solve practical problems, which included a flytrap made out of matchsticks.

Although he studied engineering and first started work at Colchester Borough Council in 1936, his career in civil engineering was interrupted for over 20 years after he joined the Royal Air Force on the outbreak of the Second World War. Professor Rod Kimber, his colleague at the Transport and Road Research Laboratory, comments in The Independent:

He once told me of a forced landing he had had to make off the west coast of Scotland [Ardnamurchan, according to The Times], on a beach where there was nothing but, extraordinarily, a working red telephone box, and so remote that he and his crew had to be rescued by sea.

He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1944. After the war he remained in the RAF until 1959, rising to the rank of Wing Commander, as The Guardian explains:

His final posting was at the British embassy in Beirut, where, as well as being air attaché and interpreter, Blackmore had some clandestine duties. He later spoke of his task of recording, by means of holes drilled in the wall, conversations in the neighbouring apartment, which was occupied by Russian embassy staff.

In 1960 he joined the TRRL, where he soon developed an interest in junction design, particularly roundabouts (The Guardian):

His interest became an obsession, and family holidays were regularly punctuated with stops at intersections while he took photos from every possible vantage point. These trips were documented with photographs, not of his children or beauty spots, but of cars, junctions and road signs. In Paris, he even climbed the steps of the Arc de Triomphe (which stands in the middle of an early roundabout) for a view of the traffic, not the city.

His major early legacy was the change of British traffic law so that traffic on a roundabout had priority over traffic joining it; previously there had been no priority rule, leading to frequent chaos and jams on busy roundabouts. But he went further:

He then worked on the idea of a roundabout with no central island in his own time, knowing it would not be taken seriously. But, after a long struggle, he finally got the first mini-roundabout introduced in Peterborough in 1969, stationing himself there with a loud-hailer to tell motorists what to do when they met it.

By 1975 this imaginative approach was adopted into official Government design manuals; Blackmore was appointed OBE the following year. In the meantime he’d also been responsible for Swindon’s famous “Magic Roundabout”, a ring of five mini-roundabouts around a central island, which is still a site of pilgrimage for road enthusiasts.

(Frank Cuendet Blackmore OBE, born 16 February 1916 in Fort National, Algeria, died 5 June 2008 in London.)