May 25, 2023

MSEA-SEIU Member Jonathan French authors first-in-the-nation children’s book on roundabouts

Jonathan French displays one of the many illustrations in his new children’s book, “Ronda Loves Roundabouts,” published through the transportation education and advocacy group Build The Era.

He wants all generations of road users to be as familiar with roundabouts as we are with traffic signals

Perhaps more so than anyone in Maine, MSEA-SEIU Member Jonathan French knows the value of roundabouts in helping all of us get to our destinations safely whether by car, truck, foot or bike. A professional engineer who works for the MaineDOT, Jonathan designed the Orono roundabout on Route 2 that opened in 2018 and the West Gardiner Service Plaza roundabout that opened in 2015. He has the statistics to show roundabouts lead to fewer crashes, injuries and deaths compared to signalized intersections.

Yet he also knows there hasn’t been much education in Maine or nationwide on how roundabouts make traveling safer for all of us. So, a year ago, on his own time, he embarked on a project to educate both current and future generations of road users about roundabouts in Maine and nationwide in order to increase their acceptance and implementation. His idea: to write an illustrated children’s book about roundabouts.

With strong support and help from volunteers from the transportation education and advocacy group Build The Era that he cofounded, Jonathan has written the children’s book “Ronda Loves Roundabouts” that the group has now published. The book is the first children’s book about roundabouts to be published in the United States. Copies are available here for $15 plus shipping. Watch the book-launch video here and a promotional video here.

The cover of “Ronda Loves Roundabouts”

“If you look right now, there really hasn’t been a nationwide education campaign on roundabouts and they’ve been used in the United States for over 30 years,” said Jonathan, who is president of our Transportation Chapter and a Transportation Engineer III and Engineering Data Manager for MaineDOT. “Other countries such as the United Kingdom have done a better job on educating users about roundabouts. In fact, the United Kingdom and all European Union member states require road-user education, including roundabouts, to be taught in elementary school. For Americans, we rely on driver education for road-user education, so most children don’t see material about roundabouts until they reach their teenage years, if at all.”

“However, children learn about traffic signals before they know how to read,” Jonathan explained. “The same should be true for roundabouts, because they save lives and make our communities a better place to live. In order for the traffic signal to become widely accepted and mass implemented in the early 20th century, children’s entertainment was used to teach about them years before somebody would get behind a steering wheel. It is still being used in the present day, so there is little to no resistance to traffic signal projects. Build The Era hopes this book will be the start of children’s entertainment being used to provide education about roundabouts for their acceptance and mass implementation in the United States during the 21st century.”

One of the missions of Build The Era is to promote road-user education. The group helps people in our communities, states and nation rethink and reimagine how infrastructure like roads, bridges, bike paths and walkways can and should be integrated safely and responsibly into our daily lives.

Through Build The Era, Jonathan connected with the illustrator for the book, Liyin Yeo, who is based in Malaysia. “We created this book entirely over WhatsApp,” a free messaging service, “so I have not spoken with or seen her ever,” he said. “We’d exchange edits going all the way back into July of 2022 even though we had a 12-hour time difference.”

Ronda Bout, the main character in “Ronda Loves Roundabouts” is the purple, roundabout-looking transportation advocate of Build The Era. In the book, Ronda and her sidekick, Bee, a flying bee, explain the ins-and-outs of roundabout usage as a driver, pedestrian and bicyclist with strong support from Liyin Yeo’s illustrations. Ronda is “passionate about safety, complete streets, climate justice and especially roundabouts,” the book notes.

“The time has come for roundabouts to be accepted as widely as traffic signals because of their unmatched safety, resilience, climate and user-equity benefits,” Jonathan writes in the book’s preface. “I hope this book is a fun and joyful tool to help increase the knowledge of roundabouts for road users of all ages, but especially children, leading to that eventual acceptance nationwide. By choosing to read this book for yourself or to others, you are doing your part to help me make this vision become a reality, so I thank you.”

In his 25th year of state service, Jonathan has six years of experience in transportation construction and 19 years in transportation design with a specialty in roundabout design. A member of the Institute of Transportation Engineers and its Roundabout Standing Committee, he believes “Ronda Loves Roundabouts” can help adults as well as children navigate roundabouts.

“In spite of thousands of roundabouts being implemented across the country, with a lack of a national education effort, many people still haven’t learned how to use them correctly. That lack of knowledge also creates distrust and fear of roundabouts, especially among those who don’t drive, regardless of their excellent safety statistics,” Jonathan said. “By the time children would see material in driver’s education as teenagers, they have already been influenced by the adults around them. We’ve been missing the opportunity for younger children to develop their own understanding and trust that roundabouts are the safest and best option for all users. Now is the time to make that happen to save more lives in the future. This also is a unique opportunity for intergenerational learning because children will read this book and share it with adults, so both can hopefully take away a new understanding of roundabouts and their benefits.”

Jonathan and the fellow members of Build The Era are hoping “Ronda Loves Roundabouts” will help put roundabout and road safety education front and center for current and future generations. He’s especially appreciative of Liyin Yeo’s illustrations in the children’s book. “Without her beautiful artwork, there wouldn’t be a book and the whimsical illustrations are really what makes the book so effective,” he said. “It’s clear when you see the responses to it, that she made roundabouts and road-user education joyful, and that’s pretty hard to do in a book.”

One of the many illustrations by Liyin Yeo in Jonathan French’s new children’s book, “Ronda Loves Roundabouts”




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