Religion and politics. Those are two topics that should never be discussed if you want to keep a conversation friendly and flowing. By bringing up one of those topics, you’ll find everyone has deeply held opinions they will gladly and enthusiastically share.
I’d like to add roundabouts to that list of hot topics.
The Newsleader staff meets on Friday mornings to talk about story and advertising plans, to critique the latest editions and deal with other mundane issues such as days off.
I recently derailed our smoothly running meeting by mentioning the plans for more roundabouts in Sartell.
It turns out, some of my colleagues hate roundabouts, believe they are a threat to public safety and in general are a bad idea. Others praise their efficiency and safety.
Traffic engineers will tell you they prefer roundabouts because they are safer, improve traffic flow and result in better fuel economy. T-bone crashes decrease, pedestrians easily cross the street and motorists move through the intersection with less delay.
Statistics show there are 37 percent fewer collisions, 75 percent fewer injuries and 90 percent fewer fatalities after intersections are converted to roundabouts.
Central Minnesota traffic engineers embraced roundabouts in the past five to 10 years. My informal count reveals Sartell leads the way with 11 and two more planned. When Sauk Rapids and Benton County reconstructed Second Street N./CR 3, six roundabouts sprouted. You’ll find my favorite roundabout collection straddling the Waite Park/St. Cloud border near the new Tech High School. Motorists exiting Minnesota Hwy. 15 at Graniteview Road encounter four roundabouts in a half-mile stretch of 33rd Street S.
Roundabouts may present exciting new challenges for central Minnesota drivers, but they’ve been standard traffic features on the East Coast and Europe for years, where they are often called rotaries or traffic circles.
My first roundabout driving adventure happened during a family vacation in Ireland years ago.
In addition to frequent traffic circles, the good people of Ireland drive very fast on the wrong side of the road.
Stone walls or hedges line the narrow roads in rural Ireland to add to the driving excitement.
For our travels in the challenging motoring environment, we rented a compact car. The purple Honda Fit (called a Jazz in Ireland) was a little cozy for four adults and luggage. I would not describe the vehicle as jazzy and I don’t see a connection to music that originated in the American South. But the Jazz was well-matched to rural Ireland driving.
If you find entering the wide, well-marked roundabouts in Minnesota challenging, try approaching one on the “wrong” side of the road from a narrow, stone-walled path.
Surprisingly I mastered the technique after a few tries, to the amusement of my spouse and daughters.
After a few miles of driving, we did notice an odd roadside feature. Rearview mirrors littered the roadsides at the base of the stone walls or hedges. Apparently, drivers who misjudged their speed or the roadway width were penalized by getting their mirrors ripped off.
Despite these perils, Ireland’s traffic death rate is half as high as the rate in the United States.
Historians believe the phrase “luck of the Irish” originated with the good fortunes of Irish gold and silver miners.
I disagree. Luck of the Irish has more to do with safe driving by speeding motorists on narrow, wall-lined roads.
So central Minnesota drivers, embrace roundabouts – or traffic circles or rotaries. They are safe, efficient traffic features.
And limit the emotional conversations to religion and politics.