IF DRIVERS are confused by one-lane-wide circles, you can only imagine what happens when they enter roundabouts that are clearly two lanes wide. There are several of those in Howard County - the circle at Routes 100 and 104 and the two at the Route 216 and U.S. 29 interchange come immediately to mind.
Regarding the Routes 100 and 104 roundabout, Ellicott City resident Bob Lewis believes that "the circle itself is not intended to be two concentric lanes," which is why, he speculates, "there are no lane markings within the circle itself." However, there are two-lane entrances and exits at both the Route 104 and Route 108 sides.
Lewis suggests the following traffic circle etiquette when dealing with such roundabouts: The right lane is intended for immediate exit at the first possible exit from the circle. This allows the left lane to proceed unimpeded to the second (and last unless you are lost) exit.
But he notes that "way too many drivers enter the circle in the right lane only to traverse to the second exit from the circle, which is asking for trouble. I suspect they funnel to the shortest line in this in-a-hurry and rude society."
Charley McCullough, also of Ellicott City, agrees with this approach. But, he says, "unfortunately, if you try to drive that way in Howard County, the baffled locals will become agitated and querulous."
The problem, points out David Sherry, who lives near the circles at Route 216 and U.S. 29, is that the two-lane-wide circles are as yet unmarked. "I have been going around in circles with the transportation officials regarding the confusing traffic patterns in these modern roundabouts over what is an accident waiting to happen," he says.
"While driving east or west on Route 216, drivers enter the circle from two lanes, but find themselves in no man's land with no lane markings in the circle. Some drivers assume that there is a single lane in the circle, while others assume there are two. As a result, I have been party to many near-miss sideswipes and crossovers as vehicles attempt to navigate through the various ingresses and egresses in the circles."
Sherry called the State Highway Administration about the lane markings, but was advised that "it just takes time for drivers to get used to the traffic patterns." He thinks this might be an acceptable approach, if local drivers were the only ones allowed to use the circles. Unfortunately, pesky outsiders keep moving to Howard County or visiting their friends and relatives in the area.
When Sherry contacted SHA, he spoke with George Miller, a SHA transportation engineer, who cited the circle at Routes 104 and 100 as the example where people are used to the unmarked pattern.
"I politely advised him that relying on driver familiarity as the solution to a safety concern was unacceptable and represented poor engineering design," Sherry says.
I second that. One of my very own relatives (my mother) cavalierly drives the roundabout at Routes 100 and 104 in disregard of the width, on the theory that if it were meant to be driven as two lanes, it would be so marked. Miller says SHA has provided some markings to help drivers align themselves in the circle. But in response to a preview of this column, Miller says they're planning to re-evaluate the roundabout.
Action is being taken with the two Route 216 circles.
First of all, SHA spokeswoman Lora Rakowski says that new signs will be placed at the roundabout approaches to alert motorists that they are approaching a roundabout. These signs are currently in design and will be installed as soon as they are completed.
And secondly, the good news is that SHA does take your concerns seriously. "Because of motorist concerns, SHA will be adding markings to help guide the motorist through the U.S. 29 and Route 216 roundabouts," says Rakowski. The markings will be white, thick, short lines that are often referred to as "puppy tracks." Look for this work to be completed in the spring.
Rakowski notes, however, that markings in the circle are not traditional, but are a more specialized traffic treatment to help guide motorists. "Even with the addition of these markings, motorists should remember that they must slow once in the roundabout," she says.
Next week: What do you think about teen drivers?
What's your driving dilemma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at email@example.com. Technophobes can mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 5570 Sterrett Place, Suite 300, Columbia 21044, or fax 410-715-2816.