Feb. 22 Daily News editorial
Traffic roundabouts may have a European history, but the all-American Walmart has spurred their development around here.
Two of the circular intersections recently opened in Woodland to deal with increased traffic around a new Walmart location. Now Longview is considering building at least one roundabout on California Way to handle traffic streaming to another new Walmart a few blocks away.
We won't go around in circles about this: We like roundabouts, though they take a bit of getting used to.
Roundabouts, in which the traffic flows in one direction around a central island — function more efficiently than stoplights because vehicles can just slow down, rather than stopping. If no other traffic is present, you can enter a roundabout immediately, which beats sitting at a red light even if there's no cross traffic going through the green. Studies have shown that roundabouts reduce harmful emissions by about 30 percent because there is less stopping and starting.
Roundabouts are also safer than traffic lights because they generally eliminate T-bone crashes, Longview Public Works Director Jeff Cameron recently told the City Council.
The city is considering building one roundabout at California Way and Seventh Avenue, which is a major feeder for Walmart. Another could be built nearby on California at a planned intersection with Beech Street.
Any American who has driven in Europe has gotten a crash course in roundabouts, some of which can have four or five roads intersecting. Of course, if you miss your turnoff the first time you just keep going in a circle until you come to it again.
According to an article in The New York Times last year, France has about 30,000 roundabouts — and yes, they have big trucks over there, too. There are about 2,000 roundabouts this country and number is growing rapidly, according to the NYT article.
A roundabout appeared several years ago at the west end of Astoria. According to the Washington Department of Transportation's website, the Evergreen State has about 120 roundabouts, "with many more planned."
The new roundabouts at the Dike Road exit of I-5, near the Woodland Walmart, have tasteful stonework in the circle. Woodland plans to build a third roundabout, right in front of Walmart, to keep shoppers spinning in and out smoothly.
The roundabouts there weren't supported by everyone.
One thing traffic engineers have discovered is that many drivers circle the wagons in opposition before they're built — but like them after they're in operation. Several studies have found that more than 60 percent of drivers like roundabouts after they've had some time to get used to them.
We predict that it will indeed take some getting used to when Longview — finally — makes the Civic Center into a true roundabout, albeit an unusually large one with a park in the middle. The current traffic pattern, designed almost 90 years ago when Model T Fords were popular, just doesn't work well.
The city hopes to change the Civic Center late next summer, so that drivers entering from all directions will yield to those already in the circle. The city will also build elevated pedestrian crossings and improve the park.
We think that Longview founder R.A. Long, whose statue graces the Civic Center park, would approve.
Editor's note: For tips and a video on how to drive in roundabouts, see www.wsdot.wa.gov/safety/roundabouts/washingtons.htm