This is a roundabout way of coming up with a topic for this Sunday missive. I'm on an unexpectedly long road trip to Pennsylvania, so my files of research and column ideas are hundreds of miles out of reach. That won't stop the newspaper deadline clock from ticking.
So let's delve into roundabouts.
Have you ever driven 'round one?
Round and round
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Roundabouts are traffic-moving circles that do away with stop signs and traffic lights. They are popular in Europe but not a commonplace traffic solution in this country, although the past decade has witnessed an increase. Why, just last month near the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport, a new roundabout was completed and opened to traffic.
Thought I'm not now on the Mississippi Coast, I know without being there that groans, complaints and grumbles are coming from drivers unfamiliar with roundabouts. But those who already know those wondrous traffic directors are smiling.
Roundabouts cut down on deadly T-bone crashes from people ignoring rights of way and stop signs. They naturally slow traffic down, definitely a good thing with several roads converging in the same area.
Roundabout newbies should expect a small learning curve. Before a year-long sojourn to Ireland, I hadn't experienced a roundabout, unless Lee Circle in New Orleans counts. Technically, though, that N.O. curiosity is a large traffic circle, not a roundabout.
Not always so simple
Confession time: My first roundabout experience was a bit dicey, being as I was in Ireland and driving on what we Americans call the wrong side of the road. I ended up going 'round and 'round until I found my correct exit road.
Still, I knew instantly I liked roundabouts because I wasn't forced to turn on the wrong road and find my way back to the right one. I just circled the wagons until I found the correct exit.
Yesterday, I went on a shopping errand for my uncle on an unfamiliar Pennsylvania road. I came to a roundabout, a new one by the obvious signs of construction. My GPS didn't recognize it, so I got in the center lane and went around and around until I got my bearings. Cool! No panic. No impossible turnaround on a country road.
I guess you could call me a roundabout devotee. Hope you consider becoming one. Of course, traffic planners will have to create more roundabouts for us to use and ignore grumbles each time a new one is announced. People don't like change, apparently not even at potentially deadly intersections that might benefit from a roundabout.
Veddy, veddy English
Most histories credit the United Kingdom in the 1960s with standardizing the first modern roundabouts. Described simply, they are circular intersections where one or several lanes of traffic flow continuously in one direction around a central "island." Three or more exits direct you back onto the regular roadways.
The modern design naturally slows traffic speeds and minimizes bad crashes. Of course, accidents will occur because drivers are careless, but these bang-ups shouldn't be deadly T-bones and head-ons.
Slower to adapt
Americans didn't begin experiencing the modern-design roundabouts until the 1990s. But even before that, such popular TV shows as The Simpsons and a 1985 National Lampoon movie called "European Vacation" poked fun at them when both Homer and Chevy Chase get stuck for hours in the inside lane of London roundabouts.
But roundabouts make so much safety and traffic-flow sense that it would be a loss not to incorporate more of them at problematic American intersections.
In the words of singer Joni Mitchell, "And go 'round and 'round and 'round ... In the circle game."
Kat Bergeron, a veteran feature writer specializing in Gulf Coast history and sense of place, is retired from the Sun Herald. She writes the Coast Chronicles column as a freelance correspondent. Reach her at BergeronKat@gmail.com or c/o Sun Herald Newsroom, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi, MS 39535-45667.