Roll out the roundabout

The new traffic roundabout’s grand opening Tuesday went like counterclockwork.

The last glitch in the much-delayed project proved to be a reverse stencil job on the directional traffic signs.

As depicted in Saturday’s Review, signs that were delivered by a Fife-area shop would have directed traffic clockwise around the circle, which would necessitate entering from the left-hand side of the road.

When the mistake was discovered, the signs were sent back.

“I don’t know what they’ll do with those signs – maybe ship them to England,” Public Works Director Randy Witt said.

The new signs, showing the proper counterclockwise flow, arrived Monday evening. So at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday – as a boom box blared the Beach Boys’ “I Get Around” – ribbons across each of the four approaching streets were cut simultaneously, and traffic once again began flowing through the intersection of Madison Avenue and High School Road.

Although a mid-morning weekday is far from a heavy traffic load, everything appeared to run smoothly.

A big fire rig came south on Madison and made several smooth laps around the circle before exiting eastbound on High School.

Pedestrians did not appear endangered. But yes, a group of high school kids did see how closely the roundabout could be made to approximate a race track.

One of the predictions made in an earlier letter to the Review did come true in the first half hour – a hyper-polite motorist paused inside the traffic circle to make way for a car waiting to enter, only to be shooed along by onlookers. Vehicles already inside the circle have right of way.

The 50-odd spectators at the opening were mostly supporters of the controversial project, which generated mostly negative comment.

“We came out mostly to make sure that supporters outnumbered the skeptics,” Nancy Fortner said.

St. Cecilia parish administrator Jim Decker, one of the ribbon-cutters, said his concern had always been for pedestrian safety.

“The cross walks are a lot closer than I thought to the circle,” he said.

But at least during the first few minutes, it appeared that motorists had little trouble seeing pedestrians and had plenty of time to stop.

Stevan Gorcester, director of the state Transportation Improvement Board, said that contrary to prevailing belief, roundabouts aren’t new or untested, even in Washington.

“I expect roundabouts in the state number in the hundreds,” he said. “We probably fund about 25 of them a year.”

He said Madison and High School seemed appropriate for a roundabout because the size of the intersection is not expected to change in the foreseeable future.

“If the intersection is going to get four times as big, then it’s not a good idea,” he said, noting that at very large intersections in England, traffic lights are required on each of the approaches.

One skeptic who became a convert was 13-year-old Mitchell Johnson, another ribbon-cutter, who wrote a letter to Mayor Dwight Sutton expressing concerns about the safety of school kids on foot.

“He asked me to meet with him and talk about it,” Johnson said. That meeting led to a video on the roundabout that Bainbridge Island Broadcasting showed regularly.

“After understanding how it would work, I changed my mind.” Johnson said.

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