Roundabout Confusion

By Brandon Naff

Horizon Reporter

If you go to Whatcom Community College, you’ve most assuredly noticed the roundabout near campus at the intersection of West Kellogg Road and Cordata Parkway. Some of you have probably driven through it, while others frequently walk through.

“I think the roundabouts are a good way to reduce traffic,” says Preston Twedt, a student at Whatcom comments on the practicality of the roundabouts near the school, “but people just don’t know how to use them properly.”

Here’s something you may not know about the roundabout: An article written in July 2009 by the Bellingham Herald states that the West Kellogg/Cordata intersection had the highest accident rate in 2008, with a total of 17 crashes.

Another article in February 2010 also written by the Bellingham Herald reported that the intersection had fallen to second place, but with a higher total of 18 crashes.

Stand outside for ten minutes watching cars and you’ll spot problems right away.

About one-third of the cars entering the roundabout do so properly, slowing their speed (but not stopping) and scanning for other cars and pedestrians.

Roughly 40 percent either stop, or were unsure of which lane to be in, and slow to a traffic-congesting slow speed.

The final 30 percent don’t slow down enough, if at all, and don’t pay enough attention to what’s going on in the roundabout.

A bus driver for WTA, who asked to remain anonymous, said “I’ve had a few near misses with cars that drive beside me.” The driver went on to say that he feels drivers are too impatient to yield properly in the roundabout.

A contributing problem for drivers entering the roundabout is that they face many distractions upon entering. They’re looking for the best spot to enter, wondering if other cars are speeding around the corner, and trying to spot pedestrians walking through. Once in the roundabout, they worry about cars improperly entering the roundabout in front of them, or perhaps if they are in the correct lane for the direction they wish to head.

The article written by the Bellingham Herald, which included a traffic report done by the City of Bellingham, did not reveal any accidents involving a vehicle and a pedestrian, but many students know of the dangers of walking through. Some even tell about near misses they’ve had.

Whatcom student Grady Sodergren knows what it’s like.

“I used to have to take the bus to school,” he recalls. “I’d walk from there to school and one night a car came through [the roundabout] and didn’t even stop. He missed me by probably two feet.” Sodergen added that he thought the City of Bellingham “needs to stop being creative and just stick to stoplights”.

The problem is that after entering the roundabout, the driver expects that the intersection is theirs, when in fact they still have to yield to pedestrians.

It’s very awkward for a driver to stop in the middle of the roundabout to allow a pedestrian to walk through the crosswalk, but is necessary to avoid the traffic congesting stop signs.

Questions may remain about whether it’s driver error or design flaw that causes this to be one of the most accident-prone spots in the county. Some argue that the roundabout’s multi-lane design causes drivers to become confused and therefore cause accidents. Others believe that drivers are either overconfident or indecisive.

Whether it’s one or the other, this much is sure: the next time you enter, be just a more cautious.

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