Because I’m an idiot, I tossed my name into the hat last summer as a Red Wing City Council candidate. One of the things I learned about my fellow Red Wingnuts during the election cycle was that lots of them are terrified of roundabouts. Many more are terrified in general. However, we now have two roundabouts in town and while they seem to be doing the job of reducing traffic hangups and routing vehicles through intersections without much trouble, they are still unpopular with a fair number of drivers and bikers (Motorcyclists are fine with them.). The myths around the hazards of roundabouts are incredible: truck drivers hate ‘em, bus drivers hate ‘em, motorcyclists hate ‘em, they kill birds . . . wait that last one is windmills, sorry.
Having taught MSF classes for the last 16 years, it’s not hard for me to imagine why roundabouts are scary: merging is not a Minnesota driving skill. In fact, Minnesotans are practically incapable of competently merging under any circumstances and roundabouts require . . . [gasp] merging compence.
There are several incredibly simple merging opportunities in the the MSF’s Basic Rider Course (BRC) and the Intermediate Rider Course (IRC). Watching students fumble their way through those merging moments is always painful and I almost kill my voice yelling, “don’t stop, keep moving” a few hundred times every class. Nothing I do will prevent Minnesota drivers from becoming overwhelmed by the idea of a moving merge, though. Every class provides me with a frustrating moment of watching one after another of my students come to a staggering stop, jamming up the exercise, and wreaking another teaching moment.
Likewise, watching Minnesota drivers try to merge on a freeway onramp is flat-out painful. For a goup of mediocre drivers who are totally confident in their ability to tailgate any sort of vehicle at any speed for any number of miles under all situations, figuring out a zipper merge appears to be impossible.
I like to tell my BRC students, “If you merge like that in Southern California, they will run over you, back up and empty their weapons into your body, and run over you again as they abandon your lifeless body. Honestly, I don’t know if that is true any more. It’s possible that the whole country has abandoned competency. Regardless, I’m here to say I love roundabouts because I despise stop signs and hate stop lights. The Mythbusters did a pretty cool test on the efficiency of roundabouts vs. our clown car 4-way stops. You guessed it, Europe wins again. Statistically, they are a dramatic improvement over 4-way stops: “The Minnesota Department of Transportation says that roundabouts are safer and produce better traffic flow. Roundabouts show an 89 percent decrease in fatal crashes, a 74 percent decrease in life-altering injury crashes, and a 39 percent decrease in all crashes.” I believe it.