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COMMUNITY VIEWPOINT: Roundabout experiences not positive ones

I have had four lengthy experiences with roundabouts during my 75 years.

My first experience was during military duty in Vicenza, Italy. There were three roundabouts between the military base and our housing a few miles away.

Two of the three were located where major avenues crossed. They provided smooth traffic flow when volume was low. But during morning and evening rush hours they were scenes of traffic jams and lengthy backups. The third roundabout was located where five streets joined. It was known locally as the “circle of death” for two reasons – the high accident rate and, if you were unfortunate enough to be caught in the inside lane of the circle, you could “die of old age” before you could get out. Drivers in the know avoided entering the inside lane which, of course, caused traffic flow problems and driver anger every day. I witnessed several accidents and my rental car was rear-ended at that roundabout.

My second experience was during military duty in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. There was a huge roundabout between the military base and our housing several miles away. It was located where two four-lane highways intersected. Drivers had learned that during heavy traffic flow to enter the roundabout from an inside lane meant you could be stuck going in circles for lengthy periods of time. Therefore, drivers using inside lanes merged into outside lanes a mile or so before they entered the roundabout. The result was frequent backups and jams with short stop-and-go driving during morning and evening rush hour. Driver frustration was intense. Minor accidents were common. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told us that overpasses were planned to replace that roundabout.

My third experience was in my former hometown of Loveland, Colorado. The city engineer proposed a roundabout at the intersection closest to where we lived. At the public hearing a continuous video loop showed smooth traffic flow at a residential intersection like ours. On the video there were never more than four cars using the roundabout. When asked about high traffic flow during morning and evening rush hours, the answer was vague. The city engineer admitted he had never lived where roundabouts existed, but he had performed an “extensive study” of them, including travel to places that had them. Several of us shared our experiences and others expressed concern. The roundabout plan was abandoned for that location.

The Loveland city engineer was not about to let go of his “extensive study” of roundabouts. A huge commercial and residential development at the edge of town was in the planning stage. The plan included five roundabouts. When the first phase of the development was completed, the city closed a major side street which forced people exiting the interstate highway to use the main roundabout. After dealing with traffic jams and angry motorists, the side street was reopened. We locals quickly learned how to avoid two of the other roundabouts by using residential side streets, much to the dismay of residents living along those streets.

My fourth experience was at Henderson where we lived for 10 years. Two roundabouts were constructed in a residential area on Serene Avenue near the Green Valley Resort and Casino. Before the roundabouts, many of us used that section of Serene Avenue as a passage between a shopping center and the casino. With the roundabouts in place drivers soon learned this was no longer a handy passageway. My wife and I would occasionally drive there for the entertainment value of watching unsuspecting drivers try to maneuver the roundabouts. We watched with amusement as bewildered drivers of delivery trucks, motor homes and school buses did short forward and backward movements to navigate around the small residential roundabouts.

About a year ago I asked Nye County Commissioner Dan Schinhofen why Pahrump was planning two roundabouts on Highway 372. As I recall, his answer was “these are dangerous intersections and folks complain about their safety and traffic flow,” “Nye County already has restricted funds on hand that we must use” and “Nevada DOT will only approve roundabouts for these two locations.” I wonder how many of those DOT planners and Nye County commissioners have lived or worked where they must traverse roundabouts on a regular basis. I have on four different occasions. I researched the history of roundabouts. They were created by British traffic engineers to relieve traffic flow and improve safety for London high society folks who loved Sunday horse-and-buggy drives to show off their fancy clothes, buggies and high-spirited horses.

Frequent accidents and injuries resulted. The wealthy demanded a solution. British traffic engineers responded by creating roundabouts.

The roundabout solution worked so well then in London with high-spirited horses going five miles per hour that it surely should work as well now in Pahrump with high horsepower vehicles going 45 to 75 miles per hour.

Think so?

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