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It's going around and he caught it

By JIM BUSEK • May 7, 2019 at 10:00 AM

They’re talking about putting a roundabout — sometimes called a traffic circle — at the most dangerous intersection in Huron County.

Said intersection is the one where U.S. 20 and Ohio 601 cross, a few miles east of Norwalk.

601 is not really much of a state highway, just six miles in total length. It starts at Ohio 18 alongside Summit Motorsports Park and ends in Milan.

The problem — and it’s a nasty one — is right there where 601 crosses 20.

Every now and then — apparently more often than any other place in the county—vehicles collide at that spot. People are often injured and sometimes killed. Serious stuff.

I once saw a school bus lying on its side in the grass beside that intersection. Someone must have run the stop sign on 601 and the bus tipped over. It stops your heart to see something like that.

So I am in no way minimizing the problem. No one should be injured or killed if there is something we can do about it.

The thing is, it is possible to drive through that intersection without incident. I lived out that way for 19 years. And I am sure I averaged at least two trips through it each day, roughly 14,000 times in 19 years. Never even had a close call.

Again, I know it only takes once. And the statistics don’t lie — it’s a dangerous spot.

But I cannot even imagine a roundabout there. I know they are becoming popular, especially in towns where they want to keep traffic moving and not have people waiting at stop lights or stop signs. In a traffic circle, you often do not stop at all—just approach carefully and yield to the vehicles already in it.

I have used several of them. But I can’t say I like them. And I certainly cannot say I feel safer when using one.

There is one in Athens, Ohio where a city street intersects with a minor state highway (sort of like 601). There used to be stop signs on the state road because there is so much more traffic on the city street. I never saw it as a particular problem. But now there is a traffic circle and I am a nervous wreck every time I use it. It just seems there is so much more to keep track of: merging with the moving traffic, jockeying into position while other cars are joining or exiting the roundabout, and getting out of the circle at the right spot.

The getting out part is trickiest of all, I think. I once stayed at a hotel in Bend, Oregon for a few days. It was on the edge of town, just off a roundabout which I must have used six or eight times. And at least half of those times I got off on the wrong street.

I know, I know: that happened because I was unfamiliar with that area, with the streets, with the roundabout itself. People who live there have no problem with it and probably think it is an improvement over the old stop sign system.

But that’s the point. Familiarity helps everything when it comes to driving and accidents.

I’m guessing that most of the accidents at 601 and 20 involve someone who was not at all familiar with that intersection. And I’m betting that most of them were caused by someone running one of the 601 stop signs; they were driving along on a state highway and did not even suspect they would have to stop. Very bad, very unfortunate and very heartbreaking for the families of the injured and killed.

But I don’t feel that good about a roundabout fixing the problem.

For starters, I don’t recall ever seeing one on a U.S. highway, out alongside the farm fields. So talk about the dangers of unfamiliarity! I have to think a lot of truckers — booming along at highway speed on 20, the certified longest highway in the country — are going to be dangerously surprised when a traffic circle pops up ahead of them.

Likewise, I have a hard time imagining, say, 5,000 cars exiting Summit Motorsports Park after a nighttime show and immediately encountering a traffic circle. Sounds like a mess to me.

Of course, people smarter than me have undoubtedly studied this stuff and concluded that a roundabout is the way to go. And they know that if they install a roundabout that they will undoubtedly put up huge warning signs and flashing lights to let drivers know what’s coming.

Hey, I’ve got an idea: why not just put up those big signs and flashing lights and rumble strips first?

If that solves the problem then — ahem — I guess we know who to thank for the idea.

 

Jim Busek is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected] hotmail.com.

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