If you’re going to have friends (and I strongly recommend that you do), have friends that are smart and helpful. I am lucky enough to have several of these. One of them, Elizabeth, reads my column and says encouraging things. This is just about the best thing that can happen to a writer. After Elizabeth read my article on four-way stops, she had a few comments. One of them was “Good column.” Another was “I enjoyed it.” Now you see why I really like Elizabeth. It’s her unerring taste in prose. But perhaps the very best thing she said was, “You should do a column on traffic circles.” There is only one thing better than getting a story idea — and that is getting a usable story idea.
Any discussion of this sort should start out with the observation there are two kinds of people in the world: those that like traffic circles and those that love traffic circles. That there is anyone in the driving universe (and in this demographic I include cars, trucks, motorcycles, pedi-cabs, and ox carts) who is not a fan of traffic circles is beyond my comprehension. Traffic circles are to cars what cream cheese is to bagels, what wax is to skis, and what bribe money is to politics. It eases the process in a subliminal way.
Cars are designed for one purpose unless you are a teenager. Cars are made to get us to places, preferably in the shortest time possible. Cars are meant to go. Cars are not meant to sit. Anywhere. They especially are not meant to sit at stop signs and traffic lights and most emphatically they are not meant to sit at futile stop signs and traffic lights. Futile stop signs are those pesky four way stops about which more previously. Futile traffic lights are those at which there are no conflicting vehicles inbound but at which we are obligated to stop anyway just because the light is red. Having driven for most of my life, I fully realize some people consider red traffic lights mere suggestions to stop but here I am addressing the law-abiding public. All seven of you. A traffic circle, in its glorious rotundity, does away with the futile stop. A traffic circle is the natural extension of the internal combustion engine.
Officially known as “ring junctions,” the first traffic circle was constructed in England in 1972. Since automobiles were invented in 1885, this gave us poor motorists eighty-seven long years of unnecessary stopping. For many years the city of Troy had the oddest traffic circle around. Except it wasn’t a traffic circle. A traffic circle, technically, is a three-way intersection controlled by stop signs (counterintuitive/futile), traffic lights (counterintuitive/futile), or not formally controlled (We have a winner!).
In any case, during the first incarnation the rule in Troy was that those already in the circle had to yield to those entering the circle. This caused much confusion, many back-ups, and scores of questions about soundness of mind of the city officials who adapted such a dumb system. Now Troy has a “ring junction” that is truly a “roundabout” in which entering traffic yields to traffic in the circle. Or junction. Or roundabout. This is pretty much as far as I am willing to go, definition-wise.
Not only do I like the current roundabout, I think Troy should build more of them. The McKaig/Dorset intersection is prime real estate for this. I realize Troy just spent 175 days and probably a gazillion dollars fixing up McKaig and a ring junction would finish the job nicely. Traffic backs up at that intersection badly and it is the very place I had in mind when I ranted against four-way stops. Again, to repeat … going is good. Stopping is bad. Plus look at the money we citizens would save not paying for those mostly-ignored blinking lights.
David Lindeman wrote eruditely about navigating the Troy roundabout last June, including his experiences with crossing the streets around the circle on foot. Last night, I did the same. There wasn’t much traffic, the visibility was good, I had on a bright red coat, and I had had two beers so this was about as good as conditions were going to get. Miraculously, just like David, I didn’t get run over, either. Drivers actually stopped for me and several gave me a cheery wave to indicate no hard feelings for making them, you know, stop.
Marla Boone is an Aim Media Midwest guest columnist.