A couple blocks from my house, there’s an intersection of three fairly busy residential streets. Until three years ago, the intersection was regulated by a flashing red light and three stop signs.
I never understood the flashing red light. Were we supposed to stop intermittently? Maybe try to zip through the intersection between flashes? Sit and wait until it flashed green? Very confusing.
In any event, the lights and signs did little to limit the wreckage caused by the local drivers who have only a nodding acquaintance with the concept of right-of-way. The intersection had a well-deserved reputation as the Body Shop and Tow Truck Full Employment Device.
Thus, I was intrigued to learn the city planned to eliminate the three-way stop and construct a traffic circle, into which the three streets would feed. Motorists would be free to use their best judgment on when to enter the circle and when to leave, with three lonely yield signs as the only deterrent to an unending demolition derby.
From the standpoint of local government, it made perfect sense – remove an intersection that offered a better than even chance of an accident and replace it with a roundabout that would raise those odds to a near certainty.
The more I thought about it, the more I liked it. I started making plans to set up a lawn chair in the shade of a tree overlooking the roundabout, and sit there all day with a notebook and a video camera to record the carnage that was bound to occur. I might even get a set of flash cards to rate the accidents – a six for a fender bender, an eight for a vicious side-swipe and a 10 for a head-on collision with double axel.
In addition to producing some epic YouTube and Facebook submissions, I planned to rent myself out as an eyewitness in the civil damage lawsuits that were sure to follow.
Alas, it was not to be. My best laid plans were cruelly struck down by an unforeseen epidemic of civility.
No sooner had the roundabout opened than every motorist in town became the epitome of “After you, Alphonse,” and “No, No, You first, Francine!”
Teenage boys in SUVs with 19 inch rims began to mute their rap music sound system and almost tip-toe into the circle.
Rednecks in monster trucks began to coast through the circle in neutral to avoid unseemly haste and noise.
Strings of bikers on chopped Harleys rode quietly through two by two, lest they frighten the soccer moms in overloaded vans.
Twenty-something girls actually stopped texting when entering the circle.
Driving up to the roundabout, you never saw such a flurry of flapping hand signals, as every driver tried to be the first to give up their right-of-way to the next motorist, no matter how long they had been waiting themselves.
Three years after its opening, and there has been nary a fender-bender in the traffic circle – not even a near- miss that I’m aware of.
I drive through the roundabout probably twice a day, and each time I marvel at its efficiency and simplicity.
All this came as a shock on a couple of levels. First, I reap zero money from eyewitness testimony (rats!) and second, a sort of mental high-five for a new appreciation of human nature.
The civility that now attends that traffic circle is a direct affront to the notion that humans need the iron hand of government to direct their every movement.
Do we really need a New York billionaire to forbid us to drink large sodas? Can’t we sort that out on our own? And while we’re at it, can’t we tell our school boards what we want our children to have for lunch, without interference from an unelected First Lady? Do we really need a flashing red light to tell us to avoid smashing into another vehicle?
Further, that smooth flowing traffic circle is a lasting affirmation of the revolutionary idea that left to their own devices, people can manage their own affairs quite nicely, thank you.
More roundabouts, please.
INTERESTING HOLIDAYS THIS WEEK: July 29 - National Chicken Wing Day; August 5, National Work Like A Dog Day. Enjoy.