Roundabouts: Did we lose those two World Wars?
The late, great humorist Robert Benchley was fond of saying: ďThe world can be divided into two kinds of people: Those who divide the world into two kinds of people and those who do not.Ē This observer likes to say that the world is divided into two kinds of people: Those who prefer Order and those who like Chaos. Fortunately, those who prefer Order outnumber those who like Chaos. Slightly.
Speaking of Chaos, in the small town that lies about ten road miles to the south of our little cabin in the woods, the subject of a traffic roundabout has come up. My colleague, Dave Barry, claims the United States fought World Wars I and II to prevent the imposition of the metric system upon the United States. We lost on that point. But I always thought we fought World Wars I and II to prevent us from being forced to suffer roundabouts.
For almost a decade, Wonder Wife and I lived, off and on, in Europe where we experienced roundabouts first hand. To understand what a roundabout looks like from above, go to your sink, turn the tap on full blast, allow the sink to fill with water, pull the plug and watch as the water swirls around and around down the drain. But there is one MAJOR difference between watching a roundabout from above and watching your sink: The roundabout has no drain. When there is even a modest inflow of traffic, the roundabout overflows.
But there is a MINOR difference. Roundabouts rotate counter-clockwise, while water rotates clockwise in drains north of the Equator. But I digress.
The reason roundabouts clog up with traffic is because of a rule called: The Priority of the Right. In France, itís Priorite de la droite. In Italy, itís Priorita della destra. But, in any language, the result is the same: Chaos followed by gridlock.
Vehicles entering the roundabout from the right have the right-of-way. Vehicles already inside the roundabout must give way and they are then often trapped inside the circling traffic and cannot break out to the perimeter so they can reach one of the exits to escape the whirling, imploding madness before it grinds to a halt.
But, for our adopted hometown, this phenomenon could have some economic benefits. When roundabouts are flowing freely, the alert motorist must crank his or her neck rapidly right and left to avoid being hit from either side. This will benefit sales from the nearby drug store for neck ointments, balms and braces.
But, once the inevitable gridlock occurs, the nearby 7-11 store could erect a viewing platform on its roof and charge admission to people who want to view the grid-locked roundabout from above. Sales of soft drinks and coffee will zoom.
Fortunately, the local medical clinic is nearby to treat the wounds that grid-locked motorists often inflict upon each other. These wounds are the result of digital communications, genealogy and physiology. The outraged motorists sometimes communicate their anger by waiving the center digit on one hand at each other while calling into question each otherís genealogy and urging the performance of anatomically impossible acts.
Experienced roundabouters wear sneakers because they do less damage to car hoods when nature forces motorists who are, shall we say, less continent than others to walk across the tops of cars seeking a restroom.
Teenagers could augment their allowances so they can obtain necessities, such as tongue and nose rings, by walking across hoods to reach sneakerless motorists who will pay big bucks for the relief afforded by a Piddlepac. The nearby sandwich shop could hawk tons of six-inch or even 12-inch subs to the stranded.
Finally, operators of construction cranes can find work lifting out the Rosetta Stone vehicle that will unlock the tangled mass of vehicular metal and allow it to flow freely.
This observer canít wait to drive in town and climb that observation platform. Ah, Chaos. Ah, Nostalgia. It will seem like old times in France and Italy.
William Hamilton, a nationally syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today, spent almost ten years in Europe Ė much of it in roundabouts.
©2002. William Hamilton.