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The roundabout answer


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 roundabout, for the convergence of Routes 63, 58 and 494 in the Washington County community of Cearfoss, is also said to be in the planning stages. Howard County has at least one other circle, planned for the Columbia area, on hold until a citizens' advisory committee on traffic issues its findings, sometime around April 1.

Lisbon's former four-way configuration was rated 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 all 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 likewise been a troublesome intersection. Governed only by flashing red and yellow lights -- as was the Lisbon intersection in its pre-circle days -- 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 takes place at the Taneytown location. These collisions tend to be of the frightening, right-angle variety common to four-way crossings. Roundabouts are designed to prevent such mishaps. The one-way, roughly 120-foot-wide circles 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, too. For the question of what to do with some hazardous intersections throughout the state, the roundabout answer increasingly appears the way to go.

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