Thursday, May 19, 2011

BREAKING: Roundabouts cause accidents

Yes, the "BREAKING" is complete sarcasm.  The Neenah Post-Crescent has the story.
Police have turned to innovative enforcement techniques to correct a common error committed by motorists at one of the Fox Cities' busiest intersections.

Authorities say more than one-third of drivers traveling north on Green Bay Road and turning west onto Winneconne Avenue to reach U.S. 41 wrongly make the left turn from the outside lane of the multilane roundabout.

The error has contributed to a rash of sideswipe crashes.
As a resident of De Pere, one of the most roundabout obsessed communities in Northeast Wisconsin, I can tell you first-hand that this is a massive problem.  The roundabout where Broadway meets the bridge over the Fox River is incredibly busy every day, and I'd estimate that at least once a week I see someone turn left from the right lane.  I've also seen the aftermath of what happens when a car doing that intersects with a vehicle going straight on from the middle lane, and the result usually isn't very pretty, even if people are rarely hurt in such wrecks.

The trouble with roundabouts is that they are an attempt by communities at a Solomonic compromise.  Traffic lights slow traffic in whichever direction has a red light, and there is the risk of dangerous crashes in the event of a red light runner or such.  Accidents tend to be rarer, but more serious.  Roundabouts, on the other hand, can tend to get jammed up in a specific direction for a laughable amount of time*, and (in my observation) tend to have more accidents, albeit lower speed accidents.

Personally, I think roundabouts are clearly not the right choice.  Simply put, people in this part of the United States aren't used to driving through them**.  Moreover, the roundabouts in De Pere and Neenah are about as well marked as is possible.  Signs and pavement markings are everywhere.  You'd have to be blind not to see the signs at the roundabout in De Pere which clearly indicate that you cannot go left from the right lane.  But people become anxious as they approach (you can see it in the faces of drivers, who are clearly thinking "What the hell is this circular thing I'm driving into?") and just go all the way around in the right lane.

Making matters worse, at least when I'm driving through the roundabout in my trusty red Volvo, the people most likely to mess up in the roundabout are almost always driving SUVs.  Especially German SUVs and crossovers.  I cannot tell you how many times I have nearly been sideswiped by people driving BMW X5s, Mercedes M-classes, and Porsche Cayennes.***  One time, an X5 even pulled into the roundabout from the right lane, changed into the left lane while in the roundabout (cutting me off with bare inches to spare), and then cut over to the right lane to exit (again nearly taking someone with them).  The out-of-state license plate and baffled look on the driver's face did much to explain the situation.  In other words, while other people are nervous about navigating the roundabout, I'm nervous about getting out alive and without having my car crippled by someone who thinks their Mercedes-Benz gives them license to drive however they want.

Fortunately, the proposal to build a roundabout at the intersection of Highway 41 and Lombardi Avenue has been shelved, because anyone who knows roundabouts in Northeast Wisconsin can tell you that nothing good would come of that idea.

On the other hand, I think one could get very rich by investing in companies that build roundabouts in Wisconsin, because on the whole, community leaders seem utterly smitten with the things.  One wonders if said community leaders have ever driven through one before the decision is made.

*Try going north on Broadway between 7:30 and 9:00 AM on a weekday and see how long the line of cars is.

**This is not true of certain communities in Illinois where I have spent portions of my life, and where roundabouts (they call them "squares") are a fact-of-life and not a panic-inspiring novelty.

***Carnerdness: For the record, I like the cars made by these three companies.   I don't like the SUVs.  What's the point of owning, say, a BMW X5?  It's no good off-road, and it doesn't drive as well as their cars on the road.  On the other hand, it's perfectly obvious why someone would buy a Porsche Cayenne, because it's the only option if you want a 4-door Porsche that isn't hideous and also very expensive like their incredibly ugly Panamera sedan.  In other words, its basically a sedan for someone who absolutely has to have the Stuttgart shield on the front of their car, in order to tell the world "I drive a Porsche!  Look how successful I am!"  I know that's the reason anyone buys any nice car, but there's a difference between buying a nice car that's practical (a BMW or Mercedes sedan, for instance), buying a nice car that's sporty (a Porsche 911), and buying a car that's actually not good at doing anything, but looks big and gaudy, and (most importantly) has a prestige badge on it.  The Porsche Cayenne falls squarely into the third category.  It's kind of like roundabouts, actually.  It's big, makes an impression, it looks serious, but it doesn't do what it is designed to do.


  1. Roundabouts are not the problem. Miliions of people in "undeveloped nations" use them every day.

    Distracted, poorly-trained, selfish drivers cause collisions. Just for a case in point, visit your local Piggly Wiggly and look at the cart corral in the parking lot. Those same numbskulls that can't figure out how to form an orderly queue out of carts that are DESIGNED to nest together, then jump into a metric ton of steel and plastic, crank up the iPod, grab a cruller from the sack in the back and career gaily into the putative flow of traffic.

    A roundabout is nothing more than a circle. Those who can't figure out that turning across traffic is stupid and dangerous should stay home.

  2. Lol...all due consideration I have seen increased number if accidents since they put one by my school in mn....probably also do to them have over 5 different types of roundabouts and having some of the types labeled differently in different cities...