Like it or not, around and around the roundabouts we go in South Sound

March 11, 2011 

I must admit to a quiet and abiding loathing for traffic circles. I have come to this condition as a result of daily travel along the one mile stretch of Littlerock Road between Tumwater Boulevard and Kingswood Drive where I, and my fellow motorists, must pass through no less than four of these wonders of modern traffic engineering.

The sheer number of traffic circles together with the number of motorists still learning how to navigate them combines to make the experience a trying one.

As a result of my admittedly personal animus toward traffic circles, I began my research for this article only too eager to find justification for my grievances. What I found, however, convinced me of the need for “roundabouts” as one of several means of addressing traffic problems resulting from growth and development.

The Littlerock Road “subarea” as it is known to city planners, in particular the area east of Littlerock Road from Trosper Road to Tumwater Boulevard, has grown apace in the last decade. Such growth is, generally speaking, good for the local economy but comes at a cost. The cost most germane to the current subject is the impact to local transportation infrastructure.

The City of Tumwater’s 2025 Transportation Plan (available at www.co.thurston.wa.us/) does a good job of laying out the issues. For example as of 2005, prior to the construction of the traffic circles mentioned earlier, two of the four intersections I mentioned, Littlerock Road and Tumwater Boulevard and Littlerock Road and Kingswood Drive, were already failing to meet the minimum standard levels at peak use times. Additionally, traffic volumes have continued to increase and are anticipated to increase 100 percent by 2025. Limiting city planner’s options in addressing traffic congestion are local citizens’ desire to maintain as much of the rural character of the area as possible and to increase bicycle and pedestrian access.

City planners have, to their credit, apparently given much thought to dealing with these issues.

To address increasing traffic volumes Tyee Drive has been added and developed to divert some of the traffic destined for stores such as Costco and Fred Meyer from Littlerock Road. Further, Littlerock Road will be widened at key points to facilitate increased traffic flow.

Traffic circles augment these efforts in three significant ways that may or may not be readily apparent.

First, when used properly, they facilitate the smooth flow of traffic diminishing the lengthy line of cars which used to build up at intersections at rush hour.

Second, they slow traffic speed through the neighborhoods and school zone that border Littlerock Road making them safer and more livable.

And third, they provide better access to bicycle and pedestrian traffic.

Knowing this information doesn’t make me, as a motorist, loath roundabouts any less. But knowing that city planners are pursuing other means of addressing traffic problems and there is a reasonable rationale behind the number of traffic circles helps me deal more effectively with my discomfort.

I am now convinced that staying with signaled intersections would not have been a better solution in the long run. But don’t take my word for it. Do your own reading and see if you agree.

That leaves me with one final thought on the subject of traffic circles: Educate yourself on how to use them properly.

The Department of Transportation has some great, easy-to-read pamphlets you can read and/or print out that tell motorists all they need to know.

Smart drivers will make traffic circles safer and ensure traffic flow is smooth for everyone even traffic circle loathing curmudgeons like me.

Kevin Deleon, a employee of the state of Washington and of the Washington Army National Guard, is a member of The Olympian’s Diversity Panel. He can be reached KreggieD@aol.com.

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