Thursday, June 7, 2012

Roundabout Rant

Bend has quite a few roundabouts.  A lot, actually.  I think I'm one of the few people who actually LIKES them.  But I don't like the bad/random drivers who are apparently paralyzed by ignorance when they arrive at one.  So here's a little instructional manual.

As you approach a roundabout, slow your roll and be aware of cyclists traveling the same direction as you--if they are ahead of you when the bike lane ends, let them into the lane (cyclists are supposed to travel the roundabout on their own, not beside a car, so let them take up the whole lane.  Don't worry--they're really not going any slower than you need to go for the roundabout anyway, so just be patient and safe.

Next, check for pedestrians.  If there are any waiting to cross the "arm" of the roundabout you're currently on, wait for them.  If not, woo hoo!  Roundabout time!

Look left and wait for a gap in traffic.  This is a YIELD, so if you can tell as you approach the roundabout that there are no cyclists, pedestrians, OR vehicles who have the right of way over you, go for it--slow to an appropriate speed and just pull out there into the roundabout without even stopping.  THIS right here is what makes them better than stop signs and stop lights!

This paragraph wouldn't be necessary if every person on the planet read and followed my handy-dandy PSA, but because people are idiots, you have to try to figure out which people in the roundabout will be exiting where you're trying to enter (and thus, you can enter the roundabout) and which are going to continue on (and thus, you need to wait).   If I ran the world, no signal means "I'm staying in the roundabout, don't come in" and a right turn signal means "I'm going to exit the roundabout at the next possible opportunity (i.e. just before where you're trying to enter), so come on in," and there would be no confusion and everything would be hunky dory.  However, the world isn't perfect.  But all is not lost.  You don't need to wait until the person has actually COMPLETED their exit (and now there's another car behind them quickly approaching) to safely enter the roundabout.  If they have their LEFT turn signal on, don't go.  If they have their right turn signal on, watch for "body" language, but you can most likely go.  (You never know though, so be careful!)  If they don't have any signal on, watch for the "body" language I mentioned.  Is the driver intently looking into the exit you're hoping they're taking?  Are their wheels turned toward that exit?  Go ahead and proceed with caution (ready to stop at a moment's notice if they're just reading someone's bumper sticker or something).

Now, you're in the roundabout.  Yay!  As you approach the "arm" where you want to get out of the never-ending circle and continue your journey in a linear fashion, turn your signal on.  This is the ONE and ONLY time you should signal in or near a roundabout.  Wait until you've passed the point of no return for the last exit prior to the one you plan to take, and then and only then, activate your turn signal.  This alerts the person waiting in that same street that they can safely enter the roundabout because you'll be exiting it.  (Don't forget to turn your blinker off after you're out of the roundabout--it won't always cancel automatically.  But now I'm getting ahead of myself...)

Before exiting, watch for pedestrians again, and if you see one crossing or waiting to cross where you plan to exit, stop.  This is the ONE and ONLY time you should stop in a roundabout.  If there are no pedestrians, a quick glance to the side to make sure you're not going to slam into a cyclist is a good idea, though they are supposed to only be behind or in front of you for this reason. 

Turn onto the street you wanted, turn off your blinker, and continue on your merry way.  Remember, I said NO STOPPING (except for pedestrians).

And in an attempt to convert the non-roundabout-lovers out there, I will extoll their virtues:

No stopping!  At a stop light, you have a decent chance of hitting a green light, but if you don' have a long wait for it to turn green again.  And sometimes a ridiculous and pointless wait as the light cycles through while the intersection remains irritatingly empty.  And at a stop sign, you're going to have to stop no matter what.  Even if there is no other traffic, you must do at least a cursory "California roll" in order to appease any cops that may be hiding, as well as karma.

No confusing issues of who has the right of way.  At a 4-way-stop, even if YOU know the rules, the rest of the drivers usually don't.  You have the person who pauses and then goes regardless of how many other cars there are and how long they've been waiting.  You have the person who lets everyone else go first even if THEY have the right of way (this person is usually in front of you, holding you up).  Then you have the people who get paralyzed by confusion..."I'm turning left, the person ahead of me is going straight, and the person to the right of me arrived at the same time.  Now what do I do?!?!"  And how many times have you sat through people going one at a time, in the order they arrived, when they could actually go two at a time in quite a few instances?  In a roundabout, pedestrians have the right of way, always, as in all other driving situations.  After that, it's first come, first served.  Cars in the roundabout have the right of way, cars wanting to enter have to wait for a gap, and exiting the roundabout is a breeze because the road ahead of you will automatically be clear.  How much easier can it get?

No worrying about left turns.  It's no harder to make a left turn than a right turn.  Once you've entered the roundabout, you can go any direction you want, including back where you came from.  In fact, this is another important aspect of my PSA.  People, when you know there's a roundabout in the vicinity, USE this knowledge!  If you're at one of those inconvenient "regular" intersections (or leaving a parking lot or whatever), wanting to turn left, and there's a ton of traffic, but there's a roundabout to your right?  Turn right, then go all the way around the roundabout, and it'll be like turning left!  Seriously!  It's amazing!  It drives me NUTS waiting for someone to turn left at an intersection for FIVE minutes, when they could have turned right, gone around the roundabout, and been to their destination by now.  Use the roundabouts to your advantage!  Similarly, if you're lost, it's quite alright to circle the roundabout again (and again) while reading the signs to be sure you're going the right way.  Most people won't even notice, because they're in and out of the roundabout without paying any attention to you, but even if they do, so what?  I mean, if you're REALLY confused, pull over (on an actual road, not in the roundabout!) and look at a map/GPS, but if you're just thinking aloud "was I supposed to get off at Davidson Drive or Danielson Drive?" go ahead and make another turn around the roundabout until your brain reminds you that your best friend's brother's wife's uncle is named David, so clearly you want Danielson Drive, or whatever.

They slow traffic.  Not that I want to go slow, of course, but in neighborhoods where the residents or the government or whoever is in charge of things like that wants to slow drivers down, which would you prefer--a bunch of speed bumps scattered around, that you have to slow WAY down for, and that prevent the snow plows and street sweepers from wanting to come through?  Or a roundabout at the major intersections to keep "those" people from doing 60, but you can still do 25 without having to stop unless there is actually traffic arriving at an intersection just before you do?

Theoretically, you can have more people navigating an intersection at the same time.  I'm sure there are civil engineers who have calculated this, but if you think about it, there's only one situation in which four people can all drive in a 4-way stop intersection at the same time--if they're all turning right.  There are a few permutations in which three people can all go at the same time, but the stars have to align just right.  More commonly, two oncoming cars can both go straight, both go left, or there are a few other permutations that can both go at once.  Traffic at right angles have a few options, too, of course, but often, other cars will have to wait.  With a roundabout, though, you can ALWAYS have multiple cars navigating the intersection at the same time.  Two, three, four, possibly more depending on the circumference of the circle.  You only have to stop if there's a car approaching the exact spot you are entering from at the exact time you're there, otherwise, you're good to go.

So, come to the dark side and learn to love roundabouts.  And drive them safely and responsibly.  Pass it on!

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