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  • Rob Snow

Learn to love the roundabout

I froze.

I don't know what came over me.


I couldn't move. I tried to move. Kept on trying. Over and over again. But it was futile. And when it over I felt like a fool.

I became that which I despise, I completely failed the roundabout.

The embarrassment occurred late last week. It was the afternoon rush hour and I had meeting in Gatineau. I was driving on Boulevard des Allumettières, trying to get onto Boulevard Saint-Joseph. Doing so requires the skillful navigation of a roundabout.

I flunked.

I couldn't get in, which is sort of the whole concept of the roundabout. Instead, I sat there, stuck. Car idling. Traffic backing up behind me. Fixated on seizing the moment I could leap into my lane and whip myself...about!

Go. Whoa. Wait. Wait. Nope. Wait. Go! Nope. Wait. Wait. Now. Nope. Wait. Wait. Go! Nope.

The cars kept coming. And then more cars. And more and more. Where are these cars coming from? They can get in. Pick their lane. Escape with ease. Why not me? Instead, I sat there like a rookie behind the wheel, treating the roundabout like an old fashioned intersection. Finally admitting failure, I waited until the light turned red an entire intersection away. The roundabout cleared and off I went, red faced. The whole shameful episode probably last no more than a minute, but like a fender bender, unfolded in slow motion.

I've been driving for more than 30 years and I'm still practicing?

I understand the roundabout.

I appreciate the goals of the roundabout: the steady flow of traffic, the enhanced safety, the improved fuel economy, the environmental benefits. I'm also the first to condemn fellow motorists for failing to master the roundabout. "Where did that guy learn to drive!?"

My impression is we're not really all that great at roundabouting in these parts. We're not European. We didn't grow up with these blasted things. Heck, I learned to drive in a small town with one set off traffic lights.

And the rules of the road make it sound sooooo easy.

Slow down. Keep to the right of the splitter island. Use the correct lane for your intended destination. Enter when there is a safe gap in traffic. Keep to the right of the centre island and drive in a counter-clockwise direction until you reach your exit. Don't stop inside the roundabout, except to avoid a collision. Use your right-turn signal. If you miss your exit, continue around the roundabout again and then exit.

Rules were made to be broken, I guess. Roundabouts are circular intersections, sans traffic lights. A 'safe gap' means wait until the circle is empty. Don't enter the correct lane. Change lanes at the midpoint. Turn signals are just a myth.

C'mon people! Don't be like me!

Practice makes perfect and what choice do we have? The city lists more than two dozen roundabouts, with dozens more on the way. Maybe it will take a generation, but like bike lanes, light rail trains and complete streets, we must learn to love the roundabout.

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