NJ to Thank for the Awful Idea of Highway Traffic Circles
If you don't know that I despise traffic circles then we haven't met. When I saw Larry Higgs' piece on NJ.com this weekend on the country's first highway traffic circle being from right here in New Jersey, I had a visceral reaction and trust me it wasn't pride.
The locals called it the Airport Circle. It opened in 1927 and it was the first time a circle was used on highways and not just lower speed roads in cities. It brought together Routes 30, 38 and 130. While there are some who look upon the traffic circle as some marvel of engineering for how we avoided a traffic light and kept traffic moving, I look upon them with disdain.
What a horrible idea.
Let's take highway speed traffic coming from different directions and trust that people are bright enough to understand who is supposed to yield. What a fail recipe this is. Does anyone remember what a nightmare the Somerville Circle was? It was one of New Jersey's most notorious traffic circles and as the population grew and traffic grew heavier it became a hotbed for accidents. Eventually they re-engineered it to put an overpass for 202 with the circle built around it. What happened after this fix was employed? For awhile traffic accidents actually increased.
In their heyday these fender killers were everywhere. Higgs' column quotes a civil engineering professor at NJIT, Rongfang Liu, as saying, "Circles fell out of favor and a lot has to do with traffic. A circle gets to the point where it can't handle higher volumes of traffic."
So they put these in thinking the population and number of cars on the road would just never increase? Freaking genius!
Perhaps nothing better demonstrates what a godforsaken awful idea traffic circles are than a copy of the road rules form the NJ Motor Vehicle Commission.
There are no set rules for driving into, around and out of a traffic circle in New Jersey. Common sense and caution must prevail at all times. In most cases, the circle’s historically established traffic flow pattern dictates who has the right-of- way."
Historical precedent is what an out-of-the-area driver is supposed to magically glean from the universe as he's hurtling towards one of these circular demons at 60 mph? Are you kidding me?
Okay, so there are no rules. Great. Marvel of engineering? I think not. There should be a special place in Hell for whoever thought of traffic circles to begin with.
My son will be learning to drive in a few years and living in Flemington, which has some of these diabolical traffic circles, I am consumed with parental guilt for having moved here. Great town, great schools, but having to learn to drive in the Flemington Circle is something only convicted felons should be sentenced to by a cold-hearted judge.
Forgive them, son. They know not what they did.