Opinion: All about roundabouts

Jody Michael

Jody Michael

Jody Michael is a junior broadcast journalism major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].

Plans to improve the campus section of Summit Street are moving even slower than the daily rush-hour traffic jam does. The initial project proposal came in 2006, and six years later nothing has changed.

Luckily, the city had good news last month, announcing Summit Street will get a massive, much-needed, $12.75 million overhaul in 2014 and 2015.

The most contentious aspect of the plan appears to be the city’s wish to remove the traffic lights at Boyd Drive (where the Student Recreation and Wellness Center is), shift Risman Drive and replace them with roundabouts.

In fact, the roundabouts are so contentious that an alternative proposal would keep the traffic lights and simply extend turn lanes.

Since the meeting, many Record-Courier readers have submitted their dissent in the, “Sound Off!” section and through online comments. Most of their anger is silly.

A common complaint is the moments spent waiting for an opening in the traffic. “In heavy traffic there is no space,” one person wrote. “They will never be able to slip into the roundabout,” another said.

That is absurd logic. Even when traffic is heavy, those cars are headed somewhere and will eventually exit, thus creating space for someone else to enter. Sure, that doesn’t happen immediately, but neither does it at a stop sign or red light.

Consider the nearby city of Tallmadge’s new roundabout in late 2010 at the intersections of Howe Road, Northeast Avenue and North Munroe Road—it’s a common access point for driving to and from Chapel Hill Mall in Akron.

Being a six-point intersection, waiting at the traffic light was a nightmare; even if you had a green light. Traffic would back up so badly in all directions that you would have no chance of getting through on the first green light.

The roundabout essentially eliminated that entire waiting time. Mark that project as stimulus money well spent.

Safety is also worth mentioning, especially since some residents said roundabouts would cause more car crashes since college students would be texting while driving rather than paying attention. This is unlikely.

With traffic lights and stop signs, a careless driver veering in the wrong lane, or blasting through the intersection while someone makes a left turn, could result in a severe head-on collision. Since everyone in a roundabout is moving in the same direction, the chance of such a crash is virtually zero.

Nonetheless, anti-roundabout sentiment is common throughout the country. The New York Times published a story about it in 2010 with a delicious dose of irrational quotes. “Let’s just have a light there, and when the light changes, you just go,” one lady said.

“Just because something works in one culture, doesn’t mean it’s going to work in another culture,” a gentleman argued. “In our country, we don’t hang animals in our storefronts like other cultures. Food is different. Transportation, patience, people, their temperaments are different from country to country.”

I love that argument, but that does not mean it’s a good one.