Tossing and Tortured 'Till Dawn

I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Pet Peeve of the Day: In a Roundabout Way
(Contemplating Cultural Inertia)

For such a young country, America has an interesting amount of cultural inertia. Tradition seems a powerful force in many older societies: things stay the same because they have always been that way. Americans seem to carry on with what they are doing, because it's what we are doing right now. Is it our nation's individualistic bent that keeps us in our ways? Our relative geographic and cultural separation from the Rest of the World?

I mean, at some point before My Time, they tried to integrate some of the metric system into the US, and all we managed to get was two-liter soda bottles. This, of course, only serves to make things more confusing. Now we need to not only mind our P's and Q's, but also sort out just how many ounces are in a liter (without looking, it's 33.8, if I remember correctly.), and whether a gallon being "about" four liters is close enough for the operation in question. Not very helpful, is it?

Lately, I've noticed quite a few roundabouts cropping up in new suburban neighborhoods and strip malls around here. Roundabouts are a staple of European traffic control, but are relatively rare in the United States.

Now, the ones at the Weyerhauser corporate headquarters are fairly standard "modern" affairs, with a large circle that forces one to slow, but still carry a bit of speed, and vehicles entering the circle are directed to yield to those already in it. It's a tense moment as I approach the thing at speed on my bicycle, crossing my fingers that oncoming cars will actually obey those directions. Since there's little reason to go through Weyerhauser if you haven't already been there, most of these folks have seen the things before, and do fairly well. Plenty, though, still have no idea what the fuck's going on and proceed to barrel into the thing as if everyone else has a stopsign. On the other hand, they might come to a complete stop at the entrance to the circle, you know, just in case.

I'm trying to imagine, then, what was going on in the minds of the designers of the strip-mall complex called "The Crossings," which contains my employer. One of the main entrances to the thing is controlled by a roundabout. Ish. Sort of thing. (I'll see if I can't get a picture for you here shortly. --ed.) It goes like this: There are four ways into the circle. Of course, they run straight into the thing, which is a recipe for distaster in the first place, so the designers decided to "fix" the problem by installing stop-signs at three of the four entrances of the roundabout. Only the street side doesn't have one.

Wait a minute. Stop signs? Isn't the whole point of a roundabout that you don't have to stop? How is this different from just creating a regular intersection, and posting a sign saying "caution: incoming traffic does not stop," like they do every other stupid strip mall? I guess they thought of this, too, because the island in the middle of the roundabout, while fairly large, is "soft" except for a largeish planter in the deadcenter. That is to say, while it's raised from the road, the sides of the curblike concrete are sloped gently. The net effect is that, if one drives over the roundabout, instead of going you know, roundabout it, you're impeded less than you'd be by one of those godsforsaken speed humps they've been throwing down on the road like so many fast-food wrappers. Four out of five Giant Pickup Trucks and SUV's agree: it's better to just go straight on through the thing.

Oh, also, this kinda thing completely screws you up if you happen to be, say, a pedestrian trying to navigate the parking lot from one store to another. There are no crosswalks anywhere near the giant waste of space that is the roundabout section, and though there are sidewalks, complete with ADA-approved little ramps, they feed right into the little section where everyone's trying to sort out what the heck to do. Your best bet is to try to dash across the lane to the island, use it like a pedestrian refuge, and then dash across the next couple of lanes, but you'd just better hope that the planter doesn't block the view of the Giant SUV that's decided to go over-not-around, as described above.

Wait, though, wait!

Why would you ever WALK across a parking lot?

You could just get back in your car, and drive.

What was I thinking?


  • At 10:28 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    You forgot the triple left turn lane westbound from HWY 18. My favorite is being in the center of the 3 turn lanes being crunched by the car in the far far left turning into my center left lane, and having the right side left turn lane turning into the center left turn lane, got that. I stepped on my brake and watched both cars hit each other in front of me.

  • At 10:56 PM , Blogger Argentius said...

    18 is a real freeway.

    It's not really bike accessible, so I have no reason to go there.

    Now that you mention it, though, I can envision that clusterfuck, since I can see the intersection in question from the building...


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