Get over your fear, Clark Griswold: roundabouts are safer, faster option

Having covered towns and cities all over the country as a newspaper reporter, I’m always fascinated by what gets people riled up enough to attend public meetings and open houses.

In one tiny Pennsylvania town, it was a proposal to make the historic cannons in the town’s center operable. (Yes, fact is stranger than fiction.) On the central Oregon coast it was a fight over spraying pesticides on beach-adjacent lawns. In Sherwood, Oregon, it was the unexpected firing of a popular police chief just back from war in Iraq.

And in Camas, apparently, it’s intersections.

At an informational open house held Feb. 26, more than 120 community members turned out to hear about the city of Camas’ plans for the intersection at Northeast Lake Road and Northeast Everett Street, near the Lacamas and Round lakes recreational area.

The turnout was, according to one spokesperson, the largest response to a city open house in recent memory.

So what’s the big deal with this intersection?

I mean sure, it is, as the city put it “critical to keeping the community connected, and a lot of people have to pass through it to get to and from various points in Camas, including the city’s growing “North Shore,” Camas High School, Lacamas Lake Lodge and, if you’re not on the Highway 14 corridor, downtown Camas.

It’s doubtful, however, that an intersection’s critical role in city infrastructure is enough to make 125 people give up their free time to attend a public meeting.

Rather, it was likely the dreaded “R” word that packed the Camas library meeting rooms — roundabouts.

If you’re like many Americans over the age of 35, you’re likely conjuring up images of Chevy Chase in his iconic Clark W. Griswold role in “National Lampoon’s European Vacation,” when he and his family get trapped in a London traffic circle and Griswold keeps pointing out the landmarks on every pass-through: “Hey, look kids, there’s Big Ben … Parliament.”

The roundabout being discussed at the Lake Road-Everett Street intersection isn’t going to cause anyone to get trapped in its circle, shouting, “Hey, look kids, there’s Lacamas Lake Lodge,” but it obviously has piqued the community’s interest.

As someone who grew up driving on roundabouts on the East Coast and who regularly drives around the mega-roundabout at Northeast Glisan Street and Northeast 39th Avenue in Portland on a daily basis — as well as the roundabouts coming into Camas off both Highway 14 exits at least 20 times a week — I’m strongly in favor of roundabouts over traffic lights.

And here’s why you should be, too:

First, they’re demonstrably safer. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), modern roundabouts are the safest type of traffic intersection in the world and carry a much lower risk of fatal or serious injury crashes than intersections with traffic lights.

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) uses IIHS statistics to show replacing traffic lights or stop signs at intersections with roundabouts reduces injury crashes by 75 percent, fatal crashes by 90 percent and pedestrian collisions by 40 percent.

At an intersection leading to so many of Camas’ schools, how can we possibly argue against a traffic design that would help keep local children and families so much safer?

But if the increased odds of not dying don’t sway you, consider this little known fact: roundabouts actually reduce commuting times.

According to WSDOT, roundabouts reduce delays and improve traffic flow. In fact, an IIHS study showed roundabouts reduced traffic delays by nearly 90 percent. That’s because traffic doesn’t usually come to a complete stop like it does at a traffic light intersection. Instead, drivers entering the roundabout yield to those coming from the left — as well as pedestrians crossing at crosswalks — and often don’t have to come to a complete stop before moving through the intersection.

Roundabouts are common throughout the world and are becoming increasingly popular in much of the United States for good reason. They’re safer, more cost-effective and keep traffic flowing. Plus, they cut down on emissions from idling vehicles.

Camas residents should support the roundabout at Lake Road-Everett for the sake of their families, commute times, taxpayer savings and the environment.

To learn more about the city’s plans for the Lake Road-Everett Street intersection, visit cityofcamas.us/lakeroad or attend the city’s second open house from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, April 9, at Lacamas Lake Lodge, 227 N.W. Lake Road, Camas.

~ Kelly Moyer, managing editor

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