Old is new and traffic engineers can make this work well for us

 

We should have seen it coming.

As many worried over what exactly could be done and how long would it take to resolve the long-standing traffic problem at Highway 84 and County Farm Road, the answer has been lying there in front of us, only a couple of miles down the road.

Eyebrows were raised all over the county when the announcement was made several years ago that not one, but two, traffic roundabouts would be constructed flanking our new $30 million high school. The magnificent new facility is still months from completion but the roundabouts have been in place for months now and, it seems, the two traffic circles have become part of the landscape with little concern.

Roundabouts, or traffic circles — or rotaries — are nothing new, though their proliferation around modern Georgia seem to have taken many by surprise. If you’ve taken the route from Waycross to Valdosta that has been reconstructed in recent years, you’ve no doubt seen roundabouts on that route. Residents and tourists alike were up in arms in the past decade when the cramped, traffic-blocking intersection where Demere and Frederica roads meet on St. Simons Island was converted to a circle. Apart from the occasional slow-speed side-swipe, that rotary, and the far less-traveled one further north on the island have settled into traffic flow pretty easily.

Roundabouts, like many good ideas, didn’t just occur to us recently. They are a utility that was once in large favor all over the country but gradually faded from the scene.

Origins of the first roundabouts are a little murky but some credit city planners in Paris, France or London, England with what are, essentially, the circles that helped travelers transition from horse-drawn carriages to motorcars. Though created considerably later, memories of traveling from my hometown of Springfield to Savannah always included what then seemed to be a nerve-wracking turn around the traffic circle in Garden City. Georgia Highway 21 and US Highway 80 (and was Highway 17 part of it, too?) together offered what seemed then to be a fast, treacherous entry into Savannah.

I can still remember my mother putting her hand on my father’s arm as we approached the Highway 80 traffic circle and cautioning him: “Go slow, Mack, these city drivers are crazy!”

The Highway 80 Circle has been gone now for decades but don’t be surprised to see it return one day as traffic in that area is continually snarled with booming growth.

Though inexperienced or unfamiliar drivers often shudder when approaching a roundabout, its sheer simplicity is often fooling. As I have cautioned my wife a few times, just follow the arrows and keep moving. About the most dangerous thing you can do in a roundabout is come to a stop. Like ball bearings inside a wheel, it’s the motion that keeps things on course.

A roundabout does keep traffic at a steady, though slower, flow. As mentioned, no one has to stop — just yield — and keep right on moving. When speed and congestion are vexing problems, roundabouts have been proven solutions for more than a century.

Why didn’t we think of this as our solution earlier?

• Robert M. Williams, Jr. is Editor & Publisher of The Blackshear Times. Email: rwilliams@theblacksheartimes.com.

Robert M. Williams, Jr. can be reached at rwilliams@theblacksheartimes.com.