Hooray for Roundabouts

A roundabout on Walnut Drive at UW-Madison. Image from Stand Associates.

Roundabouts was one of the items that came up at the listening session held by Assemblyman Joel Kitchens in Sturgeon Bay on Feb. 27, specifically the two roundabouts scheduled to be installed in Sturgeon Bay in 2016.

Most in attendance were angry about the coming roundabouts. One woman said, “They’re not even American. They’re from Europe,” as if xenophobia alone is reason enough not to allow their construction.

I first experienced roundabouts when I lived in England in the 1970s. They took a little bit to get used to, especially when driving on the wrong side of the road as they do in England, but I quickly realized that roundabouts are far superior to the evil traffic light.

Traffic lights are a waste of time and energy. The worst thing for a car is to come to a full stop, idle and then regain speed, which is what you must do at traffic lights, all while your life is ticking away and exhaust is escaping into the air.

While living in the Fox Valley, I had to travel daily through a corridor of horribly timed traffic lights. It was an area of overlapping municipalities, which, I was told, was the reason for the awful timing of the lights. I lost track of how many times I drove through a red light when no other traffic was around during my eight years living in that awful corridor, but it amounted to many times. Sitting at those seemingly endless banks of lights day after day led me to the conclusion that traffic lights were invented either by OPEC or the devil and that they exist for people who need regimentation and instruction in their lives.

Roundabouts, however, allow for a more free-flowing pattern of existence.

I do not understand the resistance to this beautiful concept in maintaining traffic flow, so I asked Wisconsin Department of Transportation traffic engineer Randy Asman, recognized as a roundabout expert within the department, what it is about roundabouts that makes people so angry?

“People don’t like change for the fear of change,” Asman said. “This is a big thing.”

He knew exactly what I was talking about when I said people at the listening session were angry about the roundabouts because he had experienced that very same anger at a public hearing held on the subject in Sturgeon Bay last September.

“People are passionate about it,” he said. “From our experience at the DOT, this is not uncommon in an area where you don’t have roundabouts.”

He also pointed out that naysayers have the loudest voices. People who support the concept tend to keep it to themselves. I certainly would not have mentioned being a roundabout supporter at the listening session.

WisDOT has installed about 300 roundabouts throughout the state.

“Our experience has been in communities where you don’t have them, two-thirds are against them,” Asman said. “That completely flip-flops after they’re built. That comes with time and realizing these aren’t so bad. It’s the uncertainty and the unknown, in our opinion. It takes time.”