Roundabout is deja vu all over again

"Ever feel like you were going in circles?Like confused motorists trapped in a traffic roundabout, unable to make that last jog back into the lane of travel to head on their way, we have the feeling we've been here before.That's certainly the sense we get as the city council ponders approval of a roundabout at the High School Road/Madison Avenue intersection, replacing the non-functional four-way stop and foreswearing the rather pedestrian traffic signal. In fact, we can see the process now: City proposes traffic innovation; motorists call city council idiots; status quo returns.It's not that we find the notion of a roundabout silly - we're intrigued, actually - but we are somewhat skeptical of the prospects for public acceptance. Recent history suggests that island drivers are not particularly welcoming of change. The Madison Avenue traffic calming project, for example, was greeted with howls of outrage from local motorists, apparently affronted by the notion of touching foot to brake pedal or acknowledging those who choose bipedal travel. To be sure, the project was only intended to be a two-month trial, and was not fully engineered. But the volleys of knee-jerk criticism it inspired was dismaying.Even this week, as a new roundabout was discussed before the council, one attendee observed: There does seem to be a good showing of people digging in their heels against something new and different.One fears this community is slipping into a state of linear thinking and provincialism. Or perhaps we simply have too many amateur traffic engineers for our own good.For as certainly as some drivers ridiculed it, there is no question that the Madison Avenue project, however rough, was a boon to pedestrians - who, with the project's demise, are now back to sprinting across the roadway to avoid being flattened by speeding BMWs. So, roundabout or signal? The project needs one more good airing - with the pros and cons of both roundabout and signal arrayed for all to consider - before a final decision is reached. But the decision will come down to whether council members have the resolve to trust the city's engineers and try something different, or whether they'll be goaded to the straight and narrow for fear of abuse. Whether the project will be decided less on its merits than its perception.We're confident that island motorists can make sense of a traffic roundabout - drive in, swerve a little, drive out - if they set their minds to it. As to the alternative: With their queues and waits and idling motors and pollution, traffic signals are themselves failures.They're simply failures in ways that we're already conditioned to accept. "

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