Traffic circles a challenge then and a challenge now

The new roundabout in South Anchorage certainly seems to be stirring up some controversy. I’ll have to be honest and say that the first time I used it, I wasn’t quite sure what it was.  I remember thinking that it was an odd place to stick an island that blocked through traffic.

I didn’t recognize it because I am a veteran of the infamous traffic circles of South Jersey.  Clearly this roundabout doesn’t even begin to have the size and dimension needed to truly reach the level of a traffic circle as I know it.

On the Black Horse Pike that leads from Atlantic City to Philadelphia there is an infamous traffic circle right past the town of Pleasantville that merges cars from six roads.  The circle has two lanes. The third lane, created by entering traffic, ends with mind boggling abruptness. 

Melding into the fast flowing traffic without turning prematurely gray or ending up prematurely dead was considered the ultimate driving test when I was a kid. Actually entering and then exiting on the right road without going around the circle at least four times while working up the courage to change lanes was considered a rite of passage into true adulthood.

If you could do that, you could do anything. Raising children wouldn’t scare you. Going to war wouldn’t scare you.  The movie Psycho wouldn’t scare you.

Towards the end of my mother’s life, she would go out of her way to avoid the circle. If she had to enter it, there was no guarantee she’d be able to exit it on the same day. So she took the path of least resistance. She entered the circle, took the first exit she could safely find, went down whatever road she was on till she could turn back and then entered the circle again.  She would continue to do this till she accidentally exited on the road she wanted. 

Needless to say, we didn’t wait dinner for her on those days. We also encouraged her to not buy perishables from the grocery store near the circle because they would be ruined by the time she was able to exit.  Eventually, she just went to stores that were no where near the circle.

Traffic circles were common back in Jersey when I was growing up.  I remember a lot of them on both the Black and White Horse Pikes that lead from Atlantic City to Philly. We were on those roads a lot, driving to visit family. I can still hear my mother’s voice raised to a mildly hysterical pitch every time we came to one as she would guide my father through it. 

OK, maybe guide isn’t the right word. I don’t know what the word would be that would cover what she was saying which usually went something like this: “There’s a car coming! Don’t go!” “Hurry up, it’s going to hit us!” Watch out behind you!” “Oh god, on the right! The right!”

As I think about it now, I am once again amazed that their marriage lasted so long.  I am equally amazed that she wasn’t bound, gagged and dumped in the trunk during these trips.  My father truly did have the patience of Job.

I don’t know who decided these circles were a good idea for merging traffic from multiple highways. I can only guess that they were created in a day when cars were much, much slower.  Once speed became an issue, and enough people lost total control of their bodily functions while trying to exit one of them, the powers that be in Jersey started to replace them with other, more kindly, ideas for achieving the same goal.

Now we have our own very first baby circle here in Anchorage.  Just a cute little one – not too big, not too grown up, and not catching traffic feeding in from multiple high speed highways.

And still we can’t cope. Can’t figure out how to enter. Can’t figure out how to exit. Can’t figure out how to be courteous to the other drivers. 

Most amazing of all, though, is that a scant few blocks away there is a major intersection being controlled by a four way stop sign.

So exactly why did we need a “roundabout” at this much smaller intersection?  Wouldn’t a four way stop have been a lot easier?  And shouldn’t someone be asking why we are installing technology that the East Coast is dumping as fast as it can?

Just some thoughts to muse on while you wander around the circle.