Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Go Left on the Right Roundabout

If there is one thing I do not like, it's change. Most humans don't, but I consider my particular aversion to be exceptional. As most other humans do as well.

I encountered my first roundabout in the mid-90's and did not enjoy the experience. It was new, it was different, it was round — completely unlike the 90-degree intersections and interminable traffic lights to which I was familiar. There was a second encounter on the east coast a few years later, this time much bigger and with the cars going much more quickly which only served to reinforce my aversion.

My family and I took a trip to Ireland in 2006. Dublin is a wonderful city but the streets take on new names in the space of a few twisting blocks. The lane directions seem inexplicable and are not always marked. It was easier to hire a taxi or walk, so we did. We enjoyed the train which took us to Northern Ireland where we rented car in Belfast for our expedition of the countryside. If they had had little red wagons I would've been first in line for the six bags of luggage we somehow felt we needed.

It was here, in Northern Ireland, while driving our rented American-made car where I fell in love with the roundabout.

The roundabouts in use on the Emerald Isle range from the large, multi-lane type with traffic signals (rare) to the tiniest version with only a white paint circle in middle of the road to mark its existence (also rare). The most frequent size was the medium range, with clear signage and consisting of two lanes of traffic.

The first day in which I drove the rental car was after seeing the downtown area of the seaside vacation spot of Portrush. We needed to find our way back to the motorway, and so I was reading signs AND driving on the left when I came to the street where I needed to turn. Which just happened to have the very small version of the roundabout, the kind with the paint circle on the surface of the pavement. I needed to make a right turn, so I did, but I mistakenly I entered the roundabout — or rather, skirted the perimeter of the paint circle — on the right. My husband said, "Go left!" and I said, "But we have to turn right!" and then he said "But you have to BE on the LEFT!" Oh. Right.

We all know about a certain town located 16 miles to the south of us here in Redmond where the traffic planners have made ample use of said traffic device while the roads in Redmond suffer (in my opinion) from a serious lack thereof. That is not to say that because Bend has roundabouts, Bend is a better town. It is to say that because Bend has roundabouts, there are many places where drivers can breeze through when it makes sense to do so rather than sit and wait for arbitrary reasons. In the case of the former, everybody wins!

The problem with the cumbersome three- and four-way stops which occupy a prodigious number of intersections here in town is the fact that one must stop even if there may be no other car or pedestrian in sight, or violate the law. It's probably not such a huge waste of time (it definitely feels that way) but it does take more energy to fully stop and start again. Aside from having gone the reverse direction on that one occasion, roundabouts always make me feel like I am moving forward.

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus wrote that "Nothing endures except change." The use of roundabouts are a change from other methods, which perhaps means they will proliferate and endure. At least for the time being.

Reprinted with permission from the Redmond Spokesman; Redmond, Oregon. Originally published November 28, 2007.


Loralee Choate said...

When I went to the UK in September, I hated roundabouts at first. Then I got used to them. Then I loved them. They make sense.

Melissa said...

When I was in Europe I was too young to drive, so I can't remember how the roundabouts work. Fortunately for me, I learned to drive in California so I have infinite patience with ridiculous traffic. ;)

ps: How cool are you! Published! Whee!