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Date: Mon, 04 Oct 1999 08:15:36 -0500
From: Dale McKeel <[log in to unmask]>
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Subject: TLCNet: Boston Globe--Roundabouts
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Posted by Dale McKeel <[log in to unmask]>
This story ran on page C08 of the Boston Globe on 10/03/99.=20
=A9 Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.=20

A concept comes full circle=20

By Beth Carney, Globe Staff, 10/03/99=20

RATTLEBORO, Vt. - There was a time, almost a century ago, when the
traffic circle wasconsidered an innovation, not a near-death experience.=20

 In 1904, New York businessman William Phelps Eno designed this
country's first real rotary around New York City's Columbus Circle. With
everyone moving in the same direction, Eno thought, the traffic would
flow better. The design quickly caught on, especially in the Northeast,
and engineers laid down hundreds of rotaries.=20

 But as more cars filled the roads, Eno's great innovation became a
highway planner's nightmare. Instead of traffic flowing smoothly, there
were drivers stuck waiting on ramps, cars whizzing around the circle,
streams of traffic stalling at one point.

 By the 1960s, the traffic circles had become vicious circles, notorious
for backups and accidents. In the United States engineers started
tearing them down.

 Now, though, there is a new group of enthusiasts who are trying to
bring the circular intersection back. The advocates are pushing a new
kind of circle - which they call a ''modern roundabout,'' and insist are
smaller and safer than their treacherous forebears.

 Especially in New England, where frustration with rotaries runs high,
the public is doubtful, but roundabout supporters are making gains.
Vermont has built two roundabouts in the past four years, in Montpelier
and Manchester.

 In Brattleboro, the state's most ambitious roundabout, a nearly
completed two-lane circle connecting well-traveled truck routes off
Interstate 91, is awaiting landscaping and other final touches. There
are plans in various stages for a dozen more.

 ''The state of Vermont took a leap of faith with this,'' said Shane
O'Keefe, Brattleboro planner.=20

 Maine, too, in that time has built roundabouts in Gorham and South
Portland. Officials from the more skeptical states of New Hampshire and
Massachusetts have started studying the option.

 ''This thing is developing so fast it's hard to keep track of them,''
said transportation planner Tony Redington. An engineer with the Vermont
Agency of Transportation, who is referred to by some of his peers as
''Mr. Roundabout,'' Redington led the way for the first roundabout in
the Northeast, built in Montpelier in 1995.

 He says roundabouts suffer guilt by association. ''They're not
rotaries. That's the first question I get from New Hampshire. The first
reaction I get from people from Massachusetts is `Gee, we're taking them
out here,''' he said.

 According to its fans, the modern roundabout has very little in common
with what some dismissively refer to as the ''high speed rotary.''

 Invented in Great Britain and common throughout Europe, roundabouts are
much smaller than old-fashioned rotaries, such as the one before the
Bourne bridge to Cape Cod. They're designed to slow traffic down; cars
enter at an angle that forces them to yield.

 Like Eno's original rotary, the principle behind the roundabout is to
keep traffic moving, and proponents say roundabouts can handle many more
cars than traditional intersections. Their fans say circles are actually
safer, too.

 Roundabouts have fewer collisions than typical signaled intersections,
and, because of the angle and reduced speeds, accidents with injuries
are reduced by as much as 60 to 90 percent, said George Jacquemart, a
New York traffic consultant who researched roundabouts for the national
Transportation Research Board.

 Environmentalists like roundabouts because cars use less fuel and spew
less pollution than they would stopping and starting at lights. Some
proponents say they even make people nicer.

 ''An interesting phenomenon occurs when you force drivers to slow down.
They become more courteous,'' said Michael Wallwork, a Florida engineer
who has spearheaded the construction of roundabouts throughout the
United States.

 Wallwork said some of his staunchest opponents are ''people from the
New England area who have driven the old-fashioned traffic circles and
hate them because they're too fast and too big and they get lost in
them.''

 But even their advocates agree that opposition to roundabouts is only
partly a matter of misinformation. A lot of people simply don't like
traffic circles. They find them confusing. Traffic lights, with their
red and green signals, feel safer, even if they aren't, engineers say.

 ''Even though delay is reduced significantly, and safety is improved,
quite a lot of people driving through it don't believe it's safe. That
is kind of weird. The perception is it's less safe than a traffic
signal,'' said Per Garden, a civil engineering professor at the
University of Maine at Orono and roundabout proponent.

 Roundabouts simply demand more from drivers, which may be why they
resist them, said Jacquemart.

 ''We have gotten so used to traffic lights. We like the lights. They
treat us like babies,'' he said. ''The roundabout has a completely
different philosophy, in the sense that we ask the driver and pedestrian
to pay attention.''

 In Brattleboro, drivers are taking to the change with mixed feelings.

 ''Put the traffic lights back,'' said Andrea Rheault, a 40-year-old
mother from West Chesterfield, who complained that she has started doing
her grocery shopping in nearby Keene, N.H., because she hates getting
caught in the center lane of the two-lane Brattleboro circle. ''They
expect you to fight your way around it.''

 Israel Briggs, a 28-year-old who drives through the rotary every
weekend to pick up his children in nearby Keene prefers the new
intersection.

 ''I just don't like stopping at stop lights,'' he said, adding,
however, ''A lot of people don't know how to use it.''

 But, for some, being a little uncomfortable is not a problem.=20

 ''They don't know who has the right of way,'' said Donna Friedman, a
retiree who lives in Whitingham and admits the swirl of traffic can be
disorienting. ''But I like rotaries, because it just feels like they're
part of New England.''

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