Cameron: an evening conversation

By Stephen Cameron

Perhaps you noticed a story this week about the Jarbeaux House, that historic little structure at Fourth and Bluemont.

City officials are puzzled about what to do with the place.

So I have a suggestion.

How about turning it into a mini-hospital — you know, kind of a M*A*S*H unit to service the wounded at that intersection?

You’re wondering why we’d need such a facility, naturally.

Well, the reason the house was moved further back on its original plot in the first place was to allow construction of a roundabout. The plan was to create a steady traffic flow, especially on Bluemont.

As it happens, I drive through that roundabout at least twice a day, and despite following the letter of the law (and good vehicular manners, to boot), I’ve nearly gotten clobbered three or four times.

I’m thinking that somebody’s going to wind up in a neck brace, or worse, when a couple of drivers negotiate that roundabout without proper caution and meet rather unpleasantly. Some guy in a big van nearly drove right through my front seat earlier this week.

The issue, of course, is that Americans just don’t do roundabouts very well.

They’re common almost everywhere in the world, and you’d be shocked at how fast drivers whiz through four- and five-lane roundabouts in places like Rome, Paris and London.

Shocked and maybe even a little terrified.

It’s amazing how the locals in those countries zip from lane to lane in mid-turn, while the entire carousel of cards whirls around at a dizzying pace.

But here?

Not so much.

Americans have grown up with stoplights. We assume that the great traffic controller in the sky will instruct us when to stop on red, go on green, and take a wild guess on yellow.

We’re not conditioned to grasp traffic direction, lane assignments and all the other on-the-spot decisions required when approaching a roundabout.

The basic premise is to look left. Yield to traffic coming from that direction, then enter the roundabout and merge to the proper lane for the exit you have in mind.

(Side note: My first serious experience with daily roundabout fright came in Britain, where I lived for three years. And over there, traffic flows on the left side of the road – meaning that roundabouts are reversed and you yield to vehicles roaring at you from the RIGHT. Yikes!)

The bottom line here is that, while roundabouts make terrific sense to traffic planners, Americans have gotten used to a different system. And we’ve done it so long that turning into instant Europeans, well…

It’s a teeny bit easier than learning to speak a foreign language fluently.

Yet tougher than making a train change in Berlin. 

My advice to fellow citizens: Approach Fourth and Bluemont with care.

Great, great care.

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