Traffic fix great in a roundabout way

Vini, Vidi, Vici quad circum!

All right, my Latin isn’t very good, but what I’m trying to say here is: “I came, I saw, I conquered the roundabout!”

It might seem like I’m getting a little carried away here, but at my stage of life you have to take the victories where they come. Besides, when the city of Troy announced it was going to replace the four-way stop at McKaig and Dorset roads with a roundabout, you would have thought the city had announced it was tearing down the courthouse, outlawing football and forcing K’s to close. Armageddon apparently was just around the corner.

You might find this hard to believe, but cities all over the country put these things in all the time and hardly anyone says a word.

When the roundabout opened last week, I hopped in my car and went right at it. I figured I should face my fear. You see, when I learned to drive back in the ancient mists of time, the traffic circle in downtown Troy was where you looked for young drivers who had disappeared. It was two lanes back then with traffic lights and you had to yield to cars that were entering the circle. My greatest fear was getting into the circle and never getting out, making my Volkswagen a kind of moving sculpture trapped in perpetual orbit around the fountain, while the loudspeakers on the square played “You got me going in circles; round and round I go; You got me going in circles; round and round I go, I’m spun out over you.”

That never happened, but when the new roundabout opened I did approach it with a little bit of trepidation. Would it be confusing and dangerous and a big bottleneck?

Well, no. In fact, it was fine. Time will tell, but it certainly seems way better than the old four-way stop, which was like being in a giant game of chicken with extra time needed so drivers could stop and give each other the finger. I know some people are worried they will have trouble figuring out how the roundabout works, but I have to tell you that a good percentage of drivers over the years at that intersection never understood how those stop signs were supposed to work.

Roundabouts like Troy’s are a relatively new thing in this country. There have been traffic circles in many places over the years (including downtown Troy), but things didn’t always go so well. Lots of accidents and people getting hurt.

But in the 1960s some guy in England figured out that smaller circles that forced drivers to slow down when they approached would cut down on accidents and make traffic flow better. A few decades later American cities started to make use of the idea. We’re a few years behind the times, but what else is new?

There are all kinds of statistics about how roundabouts are safer (well, apparently at least safer than driving down West Main Street by the new hospital if last week is any indication) and make traffic move better. I won’t bore you with those numbers, but I will tell you that almost half of the roundabouts in the world are located in France, which makes me worry. Maybe going in circles is natural over there.

You do have to pay attention to what you’re doing — there are crosswalks on the streets now and you have to keep one eye open for pedestrians and one eye open for other drivers. One of the big complaints I’ve heard is that people are upset because they really have to watch what they’re doing when they approach the roundabout. It would seem to me that paying close attention while driving a two-ton vehicle that can squash humans and other life forms would be a good thing.

I suspect that the biggest problem is that people generally don’t like change and it’s especially easy to complain when the city tries something different. I would suggest you give it a chance and if you can’t figure it out — well, you can take a different route. There are plenty of streets in Troy with lots of stop signs just waiting for you.