Posted 5/22/19

Anyone who has watched "National Lampoon’s European Vacation” may recall the difficulty Clark Griswold had negotiating the ins and outs of a multi-lane traffic circle in London.But just about …

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THIS PHOTO depicts one of two roundabouts planned for the eastern end of Inman Street as part of the city's downtown revitalization initiative, which is described as a "reimagining of the heart of Cleveland."
THIS PHOTO depicts one of two roundabouts planned for the eastern end of Inman Street as part of the city's downtown revitalization initiative, which is described as a "reimagining of the heart of Cleveland."
Contributed photo

Anyone who has watched "National Lampoon’s European Vacation” may recall the difficulty Clark Griswold had negotiating the ins and outs of a multi-lane traffic circle in London.

But just about everything proves difficult for Griswold and his family in the comedy film series, whether it’s an ill-fated trip to Wally World, a tour through Europe or decorating the outside of a house with 25,000 Christmas lights.

While driving through a roundabout can be challenging to the uninitiated, the single-lane variety planned for Cleveland is much simpler to enter and exit, guaranteeing one can be quickly be on their way to their destination without having to spend the entire day driving in a circle like the Griswolds.

The city of Cleveland recently announced a $25 million redesign of downtown’s Inman Street, where a “road diet” will be applied, resulting in a reduction of Inman Street from four to three lanes,  additional medians and designated turn lanes, as well as three roundabouts.

Currently, the city is working to acquire up to $25 million in BUILD grant funding from the Federal Highway Administration to embark on the massive streetscaping project — part of the city’s Downtown Revitalization Master Plan, which seeks to reimagine the heart of Cleveland to a more pedestrian-friendly area.

Roundabouts, which have been popping up all over Tennessee the past decade, will be making their Cleveland debut in the near future. And news of their impending arrival has garnered mixed feelings, according to comments posted on the Cleveland Daily Banner’s Facebook page.

A roundabout is a circular intersection where drivers travel counterclockwise around a circular concrete island. The junction has no traffic lights, requiring drivers to yield before entering and then traveling around until exiting at the desired street.

The Inman Street streetscaping is planned to begin where a roundabout is to be located near Starbucks at the Village Green, through downtown and extending beyond the railroad bridge into East Cleveland. Two more roundabouts, one located just beyond the railroad bridge, will intersect Linden Avenue S.E., with another intersecting Gaut Street N.E. and Dooley Street S.E. 

One Facebook commenter was excited about the announcement.

“Roundabouts are awesome!! Yesss.”

Another said she had experienced driving roundabouts while in Florida, which made her ill.

“Those things are horrible!” she wrote. “They have them in Florida, and driving like that will make you nauseated. You get dizzy from it!”

One commenter downplayed the difficulty of driving through a roundabout.

“Oh my goodness people, roundabouts are not that hard," he wrote. "Anyway, I'm glad to see some vision for downtown Cleveland ... Will be nice to see Inman tamed ... right now people just fly through there on the four-lane headed for somewhere else.”

Another commenter was downright apoplectic.

“Do we really need stupid roundabouts in Cleveland?” he wrote. 

While figuring out how to use a roundabout may seem as incomprehensible as deciphering the lyrics to "Roundabout" — the progressive rock band Yes’s paean to the circular traffic intersection — it is easier than most think.

On chattanooga.gov, the following instructions are listed to help drivers know what is in store for them when they encounter their first roundabout, which have been popping up all over The Scenic City during the past decade.

Following a few simple rules will result in everyone successfully entering and exiting the roundabout, unlike Griswold who was reduced to sobbing as he was still trapped circling the traffic circle as dusk fell on his family's daytime sightseeing trip.

• "When approaching a roundabout, slow down and be prepared to yield. Beware of pedestrians in the crosswalk.

• " Look to the left and check for approaching traffic in the circulating roadway which has the right of way.

• Pull up to the yield line and wait for a gap in the circulating traffic or enter if there is an adequate gap in traffic.

• Once you have entered the roundabout, proceed counter-clockwise to your exit point. You now have the right of way.

• As you approach your exit, turn on your right-turn signal.

• Exit the roundabout."

For trucks, roundabouts have very tight curves that are difficult for them to navigate.

"For this reason, a truck apron is provided," according to the site. "The truck may drive on the raised pavement of the truck apron to navigate the roundabout easier. The truck apron is three inches higher than the driving pavement to discourages cars from using it."

For those concerned about safety, roundabouts have decreased injury-related traffic accidents by up to 75%, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation website page posted by one Facebook commenter.

In addition, they have resulted in a 37% reduction in overall collisions, as well as:

• A 90% reduction in fatality collisions; and

• A 40% reduction in pedestrian injuries.

According to the WSDOT, roundabouts are beneficial because “drivers must slow down and yield to traffic before entering.” In addition, they “are designed to promote a continuous, circular flow of traffic,” resulting in eliminating the need to beat a traffic light.

Also, the “curved roadways and one-way travel” eliminates the possibility of T-bone and head-on collisions. They also help traffic flow by offering a continuous flow of vehicles along busy city streets such as Inman Street in downtown Cleveland.

“Unlike intersections with traffic signals, drivers don’t have to wait for a green light at a roundabout to get through the intersection. Traffic is not required to stop — only yield — so the intersection can handle more traffic in the same amount of time,” according to WSDOT.

They’re also less expensive to construct, as well as maintain than traditional four-way intersections. In addition, they are unaffected when power outages result in nonfunctioning traffic signals.

City Manager Joe Fivas told the Cleveland Daily Banner that he has had some feedback from city residents concerned about the planned roundabouts. 

"I think there are lots of good questions ... nothing is set in stone," Fivas said. "We need to have flexibility and the only thing to get it right is to have an open mind. We definitely don't want to cause any harm regarding the safety of the area."


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