Wednesday, June 25, 2008

roundabouts, or how to make a big traffic impact for little cost

A car gingerly navigates the new roundabout at Fairland Road, Musgrove Road and Marlow Farm Terrace in Deer Park.

A story in this month's Atlantic Monthly talks about the unexpected peril of excessive road signs, which the author argues is a distraction to drivers who could otherwise be paying attention to the road and things in the road instead of next to it. While his suggestion that we should do away with highway signs together - as they've been trying to throughout Europe - kind of scares me, I can agree that our roads could use less visual clutter.

While Montgomery County's been pretty gung-ho about speed cameras - which force drivers to slow down because of a machine by the side of the road, not because of actual people that might be hurt - they are looking at other ways to help motorists and pedestrians deal with one another. Last year, they built a roundabout, or smaller traffic circle, at Old Columbia Pike and Perrywood Drive outside of Banneker Middle School, and it's been the talk-of-the-town in Burtonsville ever since. (Whether or not to build roundabouts on Route 198 was a minor controversy at last week's Burtonsville charrette.)

In my neighborhood of Deer Park, just north of Calverton, the county's building three roundabouts along Fairland Road east of Route 29. It's a guarantee that soon they'll be festooned with signs and warnings in obnoxious colors. For the time being, the roundabouts - still under construction at Brahms Avenue and Musgrove Road; a third is underway at Galway Drive near Galway Elementary School - are a simple and elegant solution to pedestrian-motorist conflicts.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

This new roundabout is one of three Montgomery County is building along Fairland Road at Brahms Avenue, Musgrove Road/Marlow Farm Terrace, and Galway Drive. Below: the project also includes new sidewalks and jogging paths along Fairland Road.

Why? Because everybody has to pay attention and everybody wins. Traffic on Fairland Road isn't impeded by another stoplight, but the roundabouts force drivers to slow down and become more aware of their surroundings. Motorists have to communicate constantly with pedestrians and other motorists in order to enter or exist the roundabout. No sign can tell you if you can or can't go, and that's the clincher.

Because of the roundabout, the intersection of Fairland and Musgrove which, growing up, had been a site of many near-death experiences running from my house to a friend's house on the other side of the road, is suddenly a place of order and - dare I say it - repose. And we haven't even gotten pretty flowers planted in the middle of the roundabout yet!

East County's never been good to its pedestrians, which is unfortunate for a community with a lot of young people and a lot of buses to catch. The Cherry Hill, Briggs Chaney and Route 198 interchanges were proposed with the intention of giving pedestrians an easier time, and perhaps they have, because anything's easier than running across six lanes of Route 29. But the cars don't have to slow down or even stop anymore, and that doesn't help you when all you've got are your own two feet and luck.

If we're going to be serious about pedestrian safety, we have to give drivers a reason to pay attention to them. Signs and cameras may help increase the scare potential for motorists, but they won't make it any safer to cross a busy road.


Patrick T Metz said...

Do you know if there's ever been any consideration for a better roundabout at 16th St/Colesville Road as you're entering Silver Spring from DC?

Right now, it's a quasi-roundabout that confuses me to no end. Should I yield to cars already in the ovalabout? Should they yield to me? Which lanes are going which way? And traffic on 16th Street is forever blocked by cars trying to turn from Colesville Road to 16th Street southbound.

Thomas Hardman said...

Motor vehicles in a roundabout or traffic-circle have the right of way, both as they travel in it and as they exit from it.

I should point out that people trying to get from Colesville Road westbound should probably have turned south on Georgia Avenue and then enter the District and then cut over on Alaska Avenue NW to get down to 16th.

Patrick T Metz said...

I should probably clarify:

I know how to get in and out of roundabouts. But judging from how many near accidents I've been in at 16th/Colesville, other people either: 1, don't know how to get in and out of roundabouts; or 2, don't realize that the intersection is already a roundabout.

Perhaps I am mistaken, though, and it is not a roundabout. All I know is that no one - no one - on 16th Street yields to those in the roundabout as they enter it themselves. And seeing as how they're on 16th Street, they're generally going about 40-45 mph, way above posted limits.

Anonymous said...

As far as I'm concerned, the problem with the roundabout on 16th st. is primarily due to the lack of a traffic light from colesville to the circle. There are lights elsewhere around the circle and folks entering the circle from those points on the green light have the right of way. Why Moco or State of MD has not installed a traffic light there is amazing.

Dr. F. said...

Personally, I dig the roundabouts. Before the one at Old Columbia Pike and Perrywood, the traffic for parents dropping off their kids at Banneker MS would back up Perrywood a block or more. After the roundabout, virtually no backups. And they beat the hell out of annoying traffic lights. Wish they'd put one in at Old Columbia Pike and Greencastle in place of that light.