‘Roundabout:’ Great song, bad traffic control method

Chris Hamble

In my decades of existence, I’ve made it very obvious that I like the band “Yes.” They are, in my humble — and correct — opinion, the greatest progressive rock band of all time Their unique blend of ethereal lyrics, complex harmonies, long-form compositions and super-technical playing, will frankly blow your mind.

One of Yes’s more popular songs is “Roundabout.” You’ve probably heard it, even if you aren’t sure you have. It pops up everywhere, and once you hear it you’ll say, “Oh, yeah, OK, I’ve heard that. Good song.”

Yes, it’s a good song, but an awful, awful traffic control method.

Why bring that up? Well, there is this intersection in Stillwater, one I travel on almost daily, the corner of Myrtle and Owens streets, where someone has the bright idea to remove the stop signs and build a mini-roundabout. Not a full size roundabout, just one with a small center island. When I heard this, my brain froze. It just couldn’t process such a boneheaded idea. Why would you need a roundabout there? And why not a proper one if you did? Or, better yet, how about stop lights.

There are many reasons this idea, which reeks of “making a name for myself,” is just awful. But I don’t have that much space, and I’m sure that there are plenty of people out there, who once this gets out, will gladly fill in the rest of the blanks for you. I’ll limit my complaints to what I see as some of the biggest.

Accident city

It’s a mini-roundabout, with not a lot of room and no stop signs. The current over-under on the first accident at that intersection is 12 hours. I’m not confident. It’s going to confuse people and they are going to fly into the roundabout and smash into each other. And accidents will cause an even bigger back up than the stop signs, which aren’t really that bad because even if the line is long, it moves.

Traffic non-solution

This has the potential to not only not fix the intersection, but make it much, much worse. One block south of the Myrtle-Owens intersection is the Olive Street intersection with a two-way stop sign. That means you are going to wait at certain times of the day, which tend to match when Myrtle and Owens are busy. If that block gets backed up, which it does, and traffic behind it is flowing “faster,” what happens when that back up hits the roundabout? That’s right, traffic stops completely. You didn’t solve the problem. You made it worse.

The corner store

You know that store right there? The pleasant small-town grocery store with the friendly people and the awesome beef jerky. They would be losing parking spots, and if you can’t park, I’d be willing to bet you will just drive by. I love their beef jerky. It’s just fantastic, but if I can’t park, I drive by. It’s not worth the hassle, and that is a travesty. In an election season where each party claims to be for small business, you would think an idea like this, that would directly and negatively affect a small business, would at least be put on the backburner.

EMS, trucks, and school buses

Remember that corner store? They get truck deliveries. With a mini-roundabout, a semi, fire truck, school bus and ambulance would hardly, and in most cases won’t, be able to make the turn. The solution? Well, according to literature provided by the city, they would simply be able to “drive over the center island.” Not only with this encourage copycats, but it is incredibly dangerous.

That is a high traffic area where ambulances go by. Do you really want a big speed bump interfering with treatment on the way to the hospital? Or do you really expect to have school buses go over them? It won’t happen. Not only will it damage the shocks and leaf springs, but buses are top heavy. You take that roundabout at 15 mph or more and your risk tipping that bus if you put two wheels on the island, I know, I drove a school bus for 11 years. Those things are top heavy.

Traffic is a non-issue

Yeah, traffic backs up there every now and again with people heading downtown to catch the bridge into Wisconsin. Again, “with people heading downtown to catch the bridge into Wisconsin.” Put it together yet? We are getting a new bridge, which is going to change the traffic flow and bring it over to Minnesota 36 and take it away from that corner.

The problem with fix is once the new bridge is built, it would be nice to have a traditional, safe intersection that doesn’t invade surrounding business and property over a roundabout that serves as nothing but a reminder of really irrational government spending.

Chris Hamble is a freelance writer and humor columnist serving newspapers in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and is a lifelong Stillwater resident.