by Nick Massetti
Ever heard the meme “a square peg in a round hole”? It refers to a person in a situation unsuited to their abilities.
Well, that is what some people are saying about the idea to put a round circle in a square intersection.
They say older drivers don’t possess the abilities needed to navigate a single lane roundabout at a square intersection. But these traffic calming devices are being installed in many U.S. cities, including right next door in Long Beach.
Actually, more than 3,500 have been installed over the last three decades in the U.S., including 300 in California. The Federal Highway Administration considers roundabouts a “proven safety countermeasure” because they have been proven to reduce fatal collisions by 90 percent, injury collisions by 70 percent and total collisions by 35 percent. Pedestrian fatalities are reduced to zero. But we Americans resist accepting this late 19th-century French invention for a couple of reasons.
First, roundabouts are proven to be safer because they reduce the number of places where one vehicle can strike another by a factor of four, but we Americans prefer the illusion of safety. We prefer to think when the light is green, it is safe to go; when it’s red, it’s safe to stop. No more thought required, leaving U.S. drivers to focus on what’s really important, like texting on their phones.
Second, roundabouts are magic because they create constant traffic flow to get us there quickly rather than abbreviating journeys with mandated traffic stops. We Americans only care about getting there quicker than the next guy. Roundabouts involve drivers entering the circle to yield to those already in it, but that requires drivers to start thinking about sharing the road and not just their own needs.
Third, roundabouts reduce the number of times cars have to accelerate from a dead stop, but that would threaten American culture, which includes street racing from stoplights and wasting natural resources.
Fourth, roundabouts offer places to install public art or parks where people can gather, but that would go against one of the reasons Americans like their cars so much. They provide separation from the people around us. We don’t like being forced to associate with other people.
Fifth, roundabouts might just prove to be too much for older Boomers who would likely prefer euthanasia to giving up their driver’s licenses. But if people cannot manage to merge at low speed into a counterclockwise circle before finding the correct exit, should those people be holding licenses that enable them to operate heavy machinery in the first place?
Well, this is America. Boomers gave their lives in Vietnam defending the right of other old people to drive well past a safe age. When fundamental rights are in question, we push back.
So if you encounter a roundabout in your travels or hear about one perhaps coming to your neighborhood, go with the flow and enjoy being the round peg in a square hole.