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Roundabout Opens to Delight of Planners, Despair of Drivers

August 23, 1995

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) _ Summertime, the Legislature has adjourned for the year, and traffic moves slowly in Montpelier. A kid on a skateboard can overtake cars in the city’s one central intersection. A lunchtime pedestrian crosses the street without taking his nose out of a book.

Most people who live and work in the nation’s smallest capital (pop. 8,200) say that’s fine with them. They like the soothing personality of this town, where the peace is almost never broken by sirens, car alarms or the other disturbances of city life.

But this civic satisfaction, so uncommon where traffic matters are concerned, makes Tony Redington’s job doubly hard.

Redington lobbied successfully to put Vermont’s first roundabout at an outlying Montpelier intersection that had only stop signs. Proponents say the circular route will cut pollution by eliminating stops and starts, and make the three-way junction nice to look at and safer for bicylists and pedestrians.

Problem is, many drivers want out of the experiment.

``If I never drove through here again, it would be too soon,″ said Robert Jones, who held up traffic for several minutes while he eased his 44-foot tractor-trailer through the tight circle.

``I think it’s ridiculous,″ said Brian Towne, a Federal Express driver. ``I never realized there was a problem there.″

Redington, a planner for the state Agency of Transportation, said he knew the adjustment would take time.

Roundabouts usually boast a large circle of green in the middle with trees or flowers. Montpelier’s was shaved back to a small oasis with a single tree to make more room for trucks. It cost $120,000, including the slice of land.

Karen McCarthy, a paralegal, said the first time she drove through the roundabout, other drivers appeared as confused as she was. ``Cars were going through in opposite directions,″ she said.

Many of those who already know the rules of the round roads _ such as the one about drivers in the circle having the right of way _ grew up with roundabouts or their higher-speed relative, the traffic circle.

``I was shocked the first time I saw it, but I knew what to do,″ said Chris Cunningham, a Montpelier bookseller. ``I grew up in Massachusetts.″

Redington said studies showed the circles cut accidents by 50 percent and injuries by 80 percent.

``If someone makes a mistake and goes the wrong way, people sort of point to you and show you,″ he said. ``Because of the slow speeds that you have in roundabouts, they’re very forgiving of any error a driver might make.″

Well, somewhat forgiving.

``I haven’t heard of any crashes, even near-misses,″ said Glenn Gershaneck, Vermont’s deputy secretary of transportation, ``but I do know that people have been mouthing what appear to be profanities as they either move through or wait to get into the queue.″

Police aren’t handing out tickets yet.

``It’s Vermont’s first roundabout,″ said Police Chief Douglas Hoyt, ``and there’s going to be a learning curve here.″

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