After having driven through roundabouts — or traffic circles, as many drivers call them — in numerous states and several countries of the world, I have previously taken potshots at them in writing simply because I just have never liked them. As I have stated before, I have particular distaste for the horribly designed roundabout on Shawnee Road. Happily, I can’t say the same about the new one at Bellefontaine Avenue and Elm Street in Lima. As roundabouts go, it is one of the best I have ever encountered.
I have had the opportunity to drive through it a few times, in both directions, and I was amazed. I had become accustomed at that intersection to a sometimes seemingly interminable wait for a traffic light to change, whether I was on Elm or on Bellefontaine. The circle is more complicated than most because it involves a third street, Calumet Avenue, so I approached it with some trepidation, wondering if I would encounter something that might make those interminable waits worth it. To my complete surprise, traffic was moving smoothly, and I barely had to even slow down to traverse the new circle.
I noticed several things about it that make it superior to other roundabouts, like the excellent visibility and the compact size of the circle. However, the most notable attribute of it is the fact that it is only one lane, enabling one to drive through without having to worry about being cut off or sideswiped because drivers can’t seem to stay in their own lane in the two-lane examples.
I must admit my surprise when I saw in a Lima News article where the city engineer said the new roundabout could handle up to 23,000 vehicles per day. In doing some research for a previous column, Chief Mike Keith of the Shawnee Township PD told me that he had been informed by the county engineer’s office that the Shawnee roundabout had to be two lanes because it carries 10,000 vehicles per day, and one lane was not enough for that much traffic. Chief Keith also pointed out that a one-lane roundabout in Urbana carries 20,000 vehicles per day with no problems.
Previously, when my duties with the LPD placed me as a member of the Lima Traffic Commission, I became accustomed to disagreements with traffic engineers, primarily because I strongly disagreed with their insistence that the “manual” ruled everything, and their unwillingness to make changes to fit a particular unique situation.
Now, a new Lima News story about the high number of accidents at the Shawnee roundabout- the highest number in the county- says that the engineers are going to make changes to alleviate the problem. But they are still avoiding the only change that will accomplish that- making through traffic only one lane. As long as there are side-by-side cars within the roundabout, and drivers jockeying for position as the two lanes funnel down to one at the exits, there will be an abnormal number of accidents.
Don Stratton is a retired inspector for the Lima Police Department. He writes a guest column for The Lima News, often focusing on police matters.