Disclaimer: I have an ever-so-slight case of road rage.
Remember learning to ride a bicycle? Remember the taste of freedom it gave you? The wind in your face and a song in your heart? The endless laps around the drive, the block, the town you grew up in? Oooohh….
Remember learning to drive a car? Remember the freedom feast you enjoyed? Windows rolled down and the radio blaring? The endless miles around the town, the countryside and the nation you grew up in? Ahhhhhh…..
Cuts and scrapes. Fender benders. Flat tires and speeding tickets. Man (woman too) and the wheel. By design (the circle), endless; by function (travel), rich in possibility. The freedom of the open road, only hindered by an empty tank, was easily remedied by a stop at Mom’s lunch table or the local Amoco station. Until the invention of this:
“What’s so problematic about a roundabout?” you ask.
I’ll tell you.
But first, a history.
‘Roundabouts’ (called ‘rotaries’ or ‘traffic circles’ too) have been around for centuries. No. Really.
Piccadilly Circus in London (ironically, a Square)is a traffic circle. Of course, it’s also known to represent the ‘mysterious London vibe,’ whatever that means. It’s been around (HA!) since the eighteenth century (and I do mean the 1700s).
Paris’ Arc de Triomphe has a nice, Napoleanic history. Any pic reveals that it sits midst a ’roundabout.’ I’m gratified — in some strange, American way — to discover that Parisians may not have gotten the memo about NOT STOPPING in a roundabout.
In their defense, signage, apparently optional, is sorely absent:
In the US, the roundabout features prominently in the District of Columbia — you know, the nation’s capital. FYI: DC refers to these as ‘traffic circles,’ and holy moly, the city is full of them. I wouldn’t have guessed this, but Utah boasts many a roundabout (you can’t make this up, folks) and, well, I could go on, but I’m rather sick of my mini-research project on the cursed things.
Mind, I have every confidence this road design feature renders intersection navigation a breeze, all evidence in Paris to the contrary. Now,while the traffic circles in London, ‘the District,’ Utah, and even Alaska perhaps run smoothly with a little help from DOTs, BMVs, road signs, and the like, the situation in the Hoosier state remains dismal. Licensed drivers get behind the wheels of their trendy SUVs, manly pickup trucks, white service vans, understated luxury sedans, ancient but faithful Hondas, sporty BMWs, and ‘swagger wagons.’ They drive with relative ease around the ‘loop,’ the county road, the city street. And then, at the height of afternoon traffic — when workers are rushing home, parents and kids are heading to the ball fields, and shoppers give up the hunt — they converge on the roundabout. And promptly STOP.
WHAT THE HELL?!?!?!?
Suddenly, grown adults who’ve been driving for years and presumably manage to run their homes, their children, their employment, and myriad other responsibilities with at least modicums of success, fail utterly to manage a safer and speedier means of navigating a motor vehicle through a modified intersection.
I can’t understand it. And so, I rage, not against the ‘dying of the light,’ as Dylan Thomas suggested so poignantly. No, no, no. Instead, I rage against all the people whose friends needed a bit of help in learning how to drive, but no one bothered to lend a hand.
That’s what friends are for, right? We rode our bikes together — little posses of mad cyclists exploring the small town world. We drove around on Friday nights together — perfecting our ‘cool’ and dreaming of the future. FREEDOM!!
But when life’s highway gets congested — when we’ve got jobs and deadlines and kids and mortgages and places to be — we have no freedom. We can’t even pretend for a moment when we take the car for a spin and reminisce about the open road and the wind in our hair. And why? Because no one got the roundabout memo, which clearly states, “friends don’t let friends stop in a roundabout.”
Napoleon may have had grandiose plans for the Arc de Triomphe. And yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s still standing there. But Napoleon also had his Waterloo. Something about stopping in a roundabout, perhaps?
Don’t let it happen to you.