Traffic flow in Columbia just got a little smoother.
The new roundabout at the intersection of Forum Boulevard and Green Meadows Road in southwestern Columbia opened a few weeks ago, and it’s pretty great.
This four-way stop was previously plagued by chronic congestion, particularly during evening rush hour on Forum Boulevard from the north and to a lesser degree on Green Meadows Road from the east.
In fact, when construction started this summer, reducing Forum to one lane, the stop sign was backed up past the Country Club of Missouri and sometimes to midway up the Hinkson Creek hill near Wilson’s Fitness.
Now I have yet to see more than just a few cars waiting in any direction at any given time. Traffic flows better than ever, and, without any computerized traffic light signals or motion sensors, people save time. It’s also safer, and fewer cars are idling and belching additional exhaust fumes.
There were a few downsides: Installing the roundabout cost about $900,000 (hard to believe), the widened footprint meant neighbors on the corners lost a little yard and, unfortunately, several pine trees on the southeast corner got the ax.
Cyclists or pedestrians can be at a disadvantage. There are no timers to push for the right of way, and the crosswalks seem awkwardly spaced.
Yet, roundabouts, aka traffic circles, are a good solution to moderately trafficked intersections that have outgrown stop signs. Engineers say the greater value might be reducing the risk of broadside collisions by taking out the likelihood of getting T-boned.
We hear that more traffic circles are coming. Next year, the city plans to to install them on Vawter School Road at Sinclair Road (by Mill Creek Elementary School) and just west at Old Mill Creek. These two outdated intersections have some of the most burdensome rush-hour backups in town.
As useful as traffic circles are, they still seem quite foreign to our driving sensibilities. For example, the double roundabout feature on Range Line Street under Interstate 70 — a so-called “dog bone” — is very logical but culturally unusual.
Drivers still go through it too fast, and I see frequent irrational lane changes. Heaven help any out-of-towners who encounter this alien street feature.
The “diverging diamond” interchange on Stadium Boulevard across the I-70 overpass still feels weird when vehicles are directed to the left side of the roadway.
The I-70 off-ramp onto Stadium widens from two lanes to three with it being unclear who has right of way to bear into the middle lane. Besides, the lane paint is hard to see, and I have avoided fender-benders on numerous occasions by sheer luck.
Still, maybe the terribly overrun Grindstone Parkway-U.S. 63 interchange could be improved by building something (anything!) like a diverging diamond.
Some of these innovative traffic features are intuitive and work well, especially when drivers get used to them. But how are new drivers supposed to learn to navigate these unexpected road designs?
Seems we need instruction or preparation for these encounters. Maybe it should be a continuing education requirement to renew a driver’s license — some sort of refresher course. It could be free online or at a kiosk at the DMV.
Auto insurers offer safe driver discounts to students with good grades or those who have taken a driver’s education course. Why not for adults?
It’s not just traffic navigation that’s a safety issue. Perhaps the most lawless places in our community are the roadways. Stop signs often mean cars slow to a rolling pause. The tail end of a yellow light causes cars to race.
And the speed limit is beyond a joke. It is openly referred to as a “suggested minimum,” being standard practice to go at least 5 to 10 mph OVER the limit on a highway. Law enforcement officers, whether handing out speeding tickets or enforcing parking rules, are routinely viewed as the enemy, even by responsible citizens.
There aren’t enough officers in the world to patrol the roads sufficiently, and many folks are leery of installing cameras as unmanned speed-trap devices.
Perhaps these cultural practices are too difficult to overcome. So in the meantime, I will try to slow down and look out for the other guy, while barely tolerating the speed demons crowding my bumper.
Steve Spellman hosts “The Mid-Missouri Freedom Forum” at 5 p.m. every Tuesday on KOPN/89.5 FM.