My first encounter with a roundabout could have gone better.
We were on vacation years ago, driving through Wisconsin. We were low on gas, so I exited the interstate. The exit featured a roundabout.
Somehow, I became distracted. Mostly because, years earlier, I became married. I guided our car swiftly through the roundabout, past all of the outlets leading to gas stations, and right back onto the interstate. Instead of filling my tank with gas, my wife filled the air with derisive laughter.
So I understand the chronic roundabout trepidation currently gripping some local residents and their elected leaders. I, too, am a driver who doesn’t like surprises. America’s Dairyland threw me a curveball, and I whiffed.
Subsequently, however, I have entered and emerged from roundabouts unscathed, pleased even. Live, drive, learn.
So I was a little disappointed to hear that Cedar Rapids’ first planned roundabout at Cottage Grove SE and Forest Drive SE is likely headed for the circular file. City Council member Monica Vernon, who represents the neighborhood where the roundabout is planned, says she’s against it. “I just don’t see the problem,” Vernon said, arguing that such a big change isn’t warranted. Her opposition is a major roadblock. The final call is still up to the council.
She’s heard from many constituents who dislike the idea. They worry about driving through it. They worry about elderly folks and students walking through it. And, frankly, the pedestrian worry is legitimate, if only because walkers’ safety in a roundabout depends on drivers actually thinking and yielding. Expecting people to think while driving may be overly ambitious. They might have to put down their phones.
These arguments have and will be wielded against all roundabouts, again and again. On the bright side, no one around here has accused the city of seeking environmentally friendly roundabouts as part of a U.N. “Agenda 21” plot. Yet.
But Vernon may be on to something with her “what’s the problem?” threshold. If the city wants roundabouts, and wants its citizens to want them, it needs to find intersections so messed up that people will cheer change.
One possibility is that triangular monstrosity at Old Marion Road and C Avenue near Collins Road. It’s a truly confounding confluence, especially during the afternoon commute. Vernon says the city actually is considering a roundabout there in the future. I think many drivers would welcome it.
So make something better, not just trendy or different. Otherwise, you may just end up back where you started.