When it comes to finding new solutions for traffic problems, state and local highway officials are turning more and more to an old concept.
The old-fashioned traffic circle, or roundabout, seems to be catching on since the first modern one in Maryland was installed last spring in the western Howard County community of Lisbon. Now the State Highway Administration reportedly plans to build two more in the Baltimore metropolitan region -- one at Maryland Routes 2, 408 and 422 in the southern Anne Arundel County community of Lothian by this fall, and another at Routes 140 and 832 in Taneytown by the fall of 1995. One more is being planned for Routes 63, 58 and 494 in the Washington County community of Cearfoss.
Lisbon's former four-way configuration was among the most dangerous crossings in the state. During a recent five-year period, 40 accidents occurred there, resulting in 49 injuries. But since it began operating 10 months ago, the roundabout has seen only one minor sideswiping, and that happened before construction was finished. It is worth adding that Lisbon residents, including those who had initially opposed the roundabout, were immediately won over by it.
The Lothian crossing has also been a troublesome intersection for area drivers. Governed only by flashing red and yellow lights -- as was the pre-circle Lisbon intersection -- it has been the site of more than a few accidents caused by drivers who plowed through without heeding the signals.
Similarly, a relatively high number of accidents take place at the Taneytown intersection. They tend to be the frightening, right-angle type of collision common to four-way crossings. A roundabout is designed to prevent such mishaps. The one-way, 120-foot-wide circle planned for Taneytown would work something like a revolving door: Vehicles approaching the traffic circle from any direction would enter only after an opening emerged. Once inside, they would be limited to speeds of 20 to 25 miles per hour. SHA officials maintain the roundabout concept is not only safer than the signal-guided intersection but more cost-efficient as well.
For the question of what to do with the intersection of Routes 140 and 832 and other hazardous crossings in the state, the roundabout answer increasingly appears the way to go.