Northwest NEWS

April 29, 2002


The goal is to keep traffic moving, safely and continuously

L. Alan Collins of Carnation is no relation to me, never met him, but his excellent, common sense letter appeared in the Valley View last week. I must second his call to action. If you are against the proposed roundabout at SR203 and NE 124th St., make yourself heard. If you have not previously expressed your displeasure with this idea, please write the Department of Transportation (DOT) a letter now.
   Recently the DOT invited me to meet with them and local officials at the intersection.While we stood in the rain discussing the project, reality sunk in. While we were talking, gigantic trucks (some with trailers) blew by us at freeway speed.
   The reality of how strange it would be to have these behemoths maneuvering around a roundabout hit me. So I asked how safe it really was if a normal passenger vehicle were to go through the roundabout next to one of those giant rigs. The answer? Large vehicles are expected to straddle the lanes a bit scarier than them just slowing and stopping.
   I asked, "Why the roundabout?" One of the DOT engineers explained that they developed it in response to citizen complaints about safety at that intersection. They believe it's the safest traffic control device they could install, despite the thick fog in our valley and high volume of large vehicles. But, is it the best device for traffic flow?
   Can it be reconfigured or reprogrammed like traffic lights and turn lanes to achieve what is best for this community and the future? Can they accommodate growth? Will strangers to the concept ( those who won't be reached by "roundabout education" ) know how to react, as they would with a traffic light?
   Roundabouts are good in theory, bad in reality. Their fatal flaw is that they depend on people yielding properly to function as they should. Yielding seemed to be a key issue in the freeway incident recently in which a man was shot in the face.
   There are an overabundance of drivers out there with the "me first" attitude who don't care about letting others take their turn. The roundabout seems very idealistic in that it supposedly will work if everyone yields correctly. Not likely.
   Despite any genuinely good intentions to make SR203 and NE 124th St. a safer place, please note that this will be the first roundabout on a 55 mph highway west of Maryland. We are the guinea pigs.
   There's also a big problem in that there's no money for the roundabout. At this point, the project engineers are funded and there's money to buy the needed land. But the funding for the roundabout itself is iffy and may rely on a new gas tax.
   On that note it doesn't sound like there's funding for a traffic light either, and I was told that it is impossible to install a traffic light before the roundabout because of the permitting process.
   So the roundabout is not funded and it will be a year and a half before construction starts ... but wait, what if the money doesn't show up? Then who knows how long it will take before we get a traffic control device here.
   We should have had something there years ago, and if we had, there wouldn't have been as many accidents. So by not putting a traffic control device there, the accidents have increased over the years, and now the roundabout will protect us from what was already in the DOT's power to remedy?
   To the person who sent me an e-mail claiming that a traffic light would kill people, therefore let the roundabout save lives, remember this: A traffic control device of some sort is inevitable there. It's coming because we're growing.
   And keep in mind that traffic lights do not kill people, people kill people. Also, is it better to have a traffic light or to leave it the way it is, where people turning left (north) onto 203 are taking suicidal leaps into freeway speed traffic? Keep in mind that people are going to hurt people in traffic no matter what.
   One of my "opponents" on this recently took issue with my views, portraying me as "anti-growth, anti-progress, anti-technology." If I didn't know he was writing about me I would have thought he was having a personal problem with "Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel" on the Simpsons. There is nothing anti-growth, anti-progress or anti-technology about taking a stand against the "Duvall Donut."
   His arguments were completely irrelevant. As to his comments about the roundabout being European, I don't like it when people say we should do something just because Europeans are doing it.
   Are they so much more enlightened than we that the mere mention of "European" should make us swoon and collapse into instant compliance?
   Take a look at the April 8 letter to the editor again. That guy's been there, he's seen emergency vehicles stuck in those things going nowhere.
   This debate is bringing up related issues as well, such as the used car sales lot at that intersection. We don't need a roundabout to fix that. The people who are concerned about it should look into it now.
   Raising NE 124th Street to prevent it from flooding? Contact King County, that's their road (courtesy of us). You don't have to wait for a traffic control device to take action on these issues.
   And you should know that a couple of your local officials are working hard on some of these issues already.
   I was blown away to get a couple of e-mails from supporters of the roundabout who wanted me to carry their views to the DOT on their behalf. A pretty strange favor to ask of someone who's very publicly against it. I advised them to contact the DOT themselves as I'm not the official messenger or go-between person. I'm just a concerned citizen who's telling people to stand up for what they believe in.
   Right now, the DOT plans to install that roundabout. A large enough public outcry might make them reconsider. So, be like the engineer from Carnation who joined my e-mail campaign: Be logical, be polite, be educated, be sincere, and be firm.
   Realize that there are DOT people on this project team who really want to do the right thing and make our roads safer. They have been very gracious and accommodating to "the opposition," taking the time to meet with us and share information.
   When it comes to the roundabout, I really don't want to tell the DOT people how to do their job, rather I want them to not to do this job. I do trust the DOT people to design a cost-efficient traffic light/turn lane system that can grow with the times.
   A roundabout is rigid, urban and more land-consuming than a light. It can cause a possible visibility problem (see the recent Valley View article about the wreck on a traffic island in Woodinville) and is more traffic-slowing than a light due to our rush hour volumes.
   Is this really the right solution for right now? And remember, we're paying for this, we're the bank, it's our money funding the "Duvall Donut."
   This whole situation can be summed up by my favorite Einstein quote: "Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem, in my opinion, to characterize our age."
   The goal is to keep traffic moving, safely but continuously, and the means should be that which achieves the goal. The roundabout ain't it.
   Heidi Collins, Duvall