I read with dread the other day the news that the city was contemplating putting in another infernal traffic-calming device.
Commissioners were considering a roundabout at the intersection of Ninth and New Hampshire streets, despite the fact roundabouts seem to be almost universally despised by anyone who has ever encountered one anywhere. Give or take.
First, a disclaimer. I understand how roundabouts are supposed to work. And I understand how to navigate one. It’s not hard, really. Yield to traffic already in the roundabout. That’s it.
Trouble is, not everybody knows or chooses to follow that simple rule, so making it through a roundabout can be dicey.
And that’s when all the people involved are squirreled away in metal cages.
When folks try to get through roundabouts on two wheels or even — gasp! — on foot, things get a little more treacherous.
All things being equal, there seem to be some drivers who are loath to yield to a person on a bike. I’ve been bullied by motor-vehicle operators before. Outweighed by a couple thousand pounds (man and equipment combined, rest assured), I usually yield to such folks. I don’t especially like it, but I do rather enjoy breathing.
Then again, I frequently encounter drivers who go to the other extreme and, despite being in the roundabout already, insist on motioning me ahead of them. Sometimes I protest. Sometimes I don’t. No matter how well-intentioned they might be, these folks nevertheless foul the flow of traffic — contrary to the purpose of the roundabout. As the traffic backs up, I can feel the eyes burning into me and can’t help but feel every driver so inconvenienced must assume the cyclist is to blame.
In my mind, though, the worst roundabout ruffians are the nimrods who, in the interest of shaving a full three-tenths of a second off their commute, will cut the corner on a roundabout. Rather than go all the way around a roundabout to make what would amount to a left turn, if the way appears clear, they’ll go left immediately, driving, if only for a moment, the wrong way in the roundabout.
If the way indeed is clear, no worries.
But if there is, say, a guy on a bike legally navigating the roundabout, he’s bound to become a hood ornament.
And this isn’t purely hypothetical.
There’s a traffic circle, with a lovely view-impeding garden at is center, near my home I ride through just about every day. There’s not a lot of traffic. I’d guess I’ve encountered another vehicle in the circle maybe 50 times over the years. Twice in that span I’ve had to take emergency evasive action to avoid a wrong-way roundabouter. And I’m not talking a gentle squeeze of the brakes; both times it was more like a panicked dive to the curb as I tried to avoid a grille all up in my grill.
If my guesstimate is correct, I’ve had a potentially dangerous encounter at that intersection 4 percent of the time I’ve encountered another vehicle there. Those aren’t good odds.
I read a couple of reports that claim car-cycle accidents can be two to three times more common in roundabouts than at other controlled intersections. But the good news is that traffic tends to be slower.
The takeaway: Cyclists are more likely to get hit, but the collision won't hurt quite as much.
I take that as slight consolation.