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Circular reasoning
Give roundabouts a chance

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Date published: 10/10/2013

AMERICANS tend to hate roundabouts until they like them. A 1998 study of U.S. towns and cities that had gone to this rather European solution to traffic snarls showed that, before the roundabouts were installed, 68 percent of respondents opposed them. Afterward, 73 percent were in favor of them. A similar study in 2007 had similar results: 22-44 percent acceptance beforehand, 57-87 percent afterward.

That's food for thought while we ponder the proposed traffic circle where Lafayette Boulevard meets Lee Drive, to accommodate a planned housing project across Lafayette from Lee. Some predict carmageddon. It does add a degree of difficulty when you put a roundabout in the middle of a four-lane road, which is the plan here.

However, it would be good to keep an open mind. Roundabouts do tend to make roads safer. It's hard to be T-boned at a roundabout. And, if you are, the other guy's probably not going very fast. And, they eliminate those irritating gaps at stoplights when nobody's moving. They are, in a word, efficient.

There's an intersection in the tourist town of Manchester, Vt., that used to be known as Malfunction Junction. Two state highways cross in the middle of the town, one leading down from a ski mountain, the other bringing vacationers from the south. Getting past the knot was an adventure sport. Drivers could sit in traffic so long it made more sense to just park the car and go spend some money in one of the high-end outlet stores.

In the last couple of years, the town turned Malfunction Junction into Function Junction. It did it by putting a roundabout at the intersection. As was the case with the larger survey, public opposition in Manchester was pretty strong. And now, folks seem to think it's a pretty good idea. The long lines of cars move at a slow but steady pace through the former bottleneck, even with the fall leaf-peepers streaming in.

Fredericksburg isn't Manchester, Vt., and a roundabout on a four-lane highway is more problematic than on a two-lane road (see: Spotsylvania Towne Centre), but the empirical truth is that people tend to like roundabouts more than they ever thought they could.

If we try it, we might like it.