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If you’re in, you win:

By on November 24, 2020 in Uncategorized with 0 Comments

Rules of the roundabout

Around and around: Traffic going in circles, with the heads of drivers spinning.

By Jamie Howell

Western Avenue was the freeway of my youth — a straight, uninterrupted stretch of road one mile west of my hometown’s main drag. 

Without a single stoplight from Saddlerock to Sunrise Circle to slow me down, I could cross town fast enough to sneak in my girlfriend’s window on Springwater for a little high school hanky panky and still make it to hockey practice on time.

Then came the stop lights — Fifth Street, Springwater, Ninth, Maple — chopping up our speedway into safe, and significantly slower, little segments. 

But what seemed a travesty to us lead-footed, self-interested teenagers made perfect sense to a civic planner. 

At the intersection of Springwater and Western, the evening sun has a way of hitting you in the eyes just so. You might never see that Bronco doing 50 in the 35 until it comes through the driver’s side door. There had been fatalities over the years.

So Western Avenue became slower and safer … and, as the population of the Wenatchee Valley grew and the orchards became housing developments, slower and slower still.

Then, about five years ago, our city leaders began delivering the next evolution in traffic technology in the form of the much-despised but eminently logical roundabout. 

Roundabouts aren’t exactly new tech. The French put in their giant traffic circle around the Arc de Triomphe in 1907. 

Skip forward 111 years to the summer of 2018 and for the low, low price of $413,457 that corner at Western and Springwater was transformed into a modern-day concrete donut. Voila, Wenatchee was up to speed.

The idea of a roundabout itself is a laudable one. The goal is to impose a calming effect on traffic by forcing motorists to slow down while simultaneously allowing them to roll through California stops like they’re celebrities in Santa Monica. It’s safer and involves a lot less sitting around at stoplights.

What’s not as laudable has been the ability of local drivers to adapt to our new circular intersections. 

It’s like, now that your aging Gran-Gran has finally figured out how to check email on her iPhone, you go and move all family communications to Tik-Tok. Good luck, Gran-Gran!

There are plenty of stiffly narrated and oft-times confusing YouTube videos out there (links below for your enjoyment) that dive deep into the intricacies of roundabouting. 

But in the interest of helping out, I’ve developed a more simplified set of guidelines — just two rules:

Rule 1: If You’re In, You Win

Rule 2: Look Left

See, if you break down the actual functions of a roundabout, there are only two things it’s really trying to do: Keep people (in their cars) from hitting each other while also keeping them from stopping unnecessarily. 

I’ll elaborate just a smidge:

If You’re In, You Win: This simply means that any car inside the circle before you are has the right of way. Nobody is supposed to stop when approaching a traffic circle UNLESS somebody’s in there already who might hit you. 

And if YOU are in the traffic circle, it’s smooth sailing, Papi. Short of bicyclists, pedestrians and small animals, you don’t gotta stop for nobody.

Writer Jamie Howell looking for sanity on the islands.

Look Left: You look left because that’s the only direction from which anybody could conceivably hit you. All U.S. traffic circles go counterclockwise, so if they’re coming, they’re coming from the left.

Of course, all the other usual traffic rules still apply. If there’s a sign, you have to do what it says. Walkers and bikers are still completely untouchable. All the normal stuff you already know.

“Yeah, but,” I hear you protesting, “What if two cars arrive at exactly the same time?” 

Seriously, if you have a driver’s license, you know this one already, too — it’s the fella to your right who gets the right of way, just like at a stop sign. But you still don’t have to stop, you just have to let them go first and avoid hitting them.

If you’re in, you win. And look left. As a driver approaching a roundabout, if you will just try to recall these two simple rules, you should come out on the other side undamaged and unruffled every time.

I love that I can whip around the corner from Western onto Springwater without stopping, like it’s 1986 all over again. And I love not sitting at empty stoplights stuck on red. 

What I don’t love is the heightened risk that comes when some “circle jerk” won’t play by these very simple rules to keep everybody safe.

Which leads me, I suppose, to one final addendum to my Rules of the Roundabout. 

Rule #3: Remember, not everyone knows how to operate the thing yet. 

Safe driving!


The Washington DOT offers explainers here (prepare to feel as if you’ve travelled back in time to Driver’s Ed circa 1983):


A look at the national consensus from Cheddar Explains:

“Why the U.S. Hates Roundabouts”

Jamie Howell of Howell at the Moon Productions is a writer, director and enthusiastic home cook based in north central Washington.

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