March 25, 2002
If roundabouts were a perfect solution they would be everywhere
In response to the Valley View front page article called "Engineers: Roundabout is safest alternative..." I feel compelled to write with a number of points.
Both my father-in-law and sister-in-law are traffic civil engineers in different states. Within the past couple of years, they've started expressing the mantra similar to your headline with the same arguments - safer, they do it in Europe, etc.
It seems to really be a pet project of engineers. When I express to them the frustrations I've had with roundabouts, as well the concerns of most people I deal with, they usually respond with something along the lines of, "Well, people just don't know how to use them properly." To me this is a ringing anti-endorsement. Why would you put something up that no one knows how to properly use?
The argument that they are so much safer is questionable to me - the comment about eight conflict points in particular. If people don't feel comfortable with those eight, but are accustomed to the "32" in a normal intersection - logic tells me that the safer one is the one people are comfortable with. And I've found the roundabout I travel often - near I-90 on East Sammamish Parkway - is not "traffic calming." Rather, I've often felt nervous about other drivers approaching too fast or not paying attention.
The European argument doesn't ring right either. Most of those roundabouts seem to be either cultural, symbolic or geographic based. When you've got old cities with lots of streets intersecting at other than a 90-degree angle, I would agree that a roundabout is the best solution or when you wish to make a statement with a monument or a fountain. But I would question whether any significant number of European roundabouts are similar to the situation we have at 124th and Hwy 203.
The one point I'll grant is the radical reduction in fatal accidents cited in the second to last paragraph. Other than someone simply not slowing down, the circles would force much lower- speed accidents.
Finally, if it is indeed the safest, why didn't they put one at the west end of 124th? Or the five or so locations along Novelty? Or at West Snoqualmie Valley and Woodinville-Duvall Road? There certainly is enough room there. It seems that if these are such a panacea, they would be forced on the public everywhere. I just hope that this pet engineers' project will be dropped for a normal intersection.
Phil Reasoner, via e-mail