Oct 2, 2017

Revolting, Revolving Roundabouts?

Roundabout ProposalBecause 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.


Troubadour said...

Not just Minnesotans, I can attest that Oregonians (and recent California transplants) have no clue how to zipper merge or use a roundabout. The "me first" attitude most drivers have screw up the zipper merge, then when they get to a roundabout they stop. How about practicing a little patience at the merge, and "me first" attitude at the roundabout?!?

Anonymous said...

The trouble with the zipper merge in North Carolina is that people will not allow you to merge onto the highway. You'll get up to speed and they will pull up close to the car in front of them and you'll end up running out of acceleration lane. I've even had one person tell me that the rule is the people on the highway have the right of way and not the people getting on the highway and trying to merge into moving traffic! The rule of the road I learned in Missouri was that you get over to let people on the highway. Almost no one does this. They seem to think it makes them less of a person to actually be helpful. I'm putting words in their minds, I don't really know why these people are so dumb. When I honk at someone who didn't let me merge when they had 3 opens lanes to their left, I just get confused looks or anger. The same looks I get when I honk when someone doesn't use a turn signal. I'm fighting a losing war. I just try to live the way I want others to live and set a good example for my daughter. If you are always courteous and do the right thing, then you can hold your head high. Mandatory motorcycle riding for drivers would be great as they would learn that they aren't in a completely safe cocoon, that there are other humans in the other vehicles, and that traveling at 40 mph is inherently dangerous. I can't get this into my wife's head when she tailgates every time I'm in her car. She just ends up mad at me.

Geoff James said...

Having grown up with roundabouts in the UK and in NZ, I absolutely love 'em! You can make good, unimpeded progress. Only one drawback..... a good 50% of the motoring public don't know how to signal properly when entering or exiting a multi-lane roundabout. This means that you have to watch them like hawks in order for you not to be scraped off the ground when they change lanes!

Unknown said...

You should introduce them to the 'Magic Roudabout', They'd probably all die of heart attacks!


T.W. Day said...

That is pretty incredible. Hard to imagine it's been in place since 1973. I just hit a series of weirdly marked and even weirder designed roundabouts in Cottage Grove that reminded me that Minnesotans should never be allowed to play with highway signage.