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Fun in Towson comes full circle

The Baltimore Sun

My fellow motorists, what have they done to our favorite traffic nightmare?

I speak here, of course, of the infamous Towson roundabout, that hellish ribbon of asphalt and brick where civility once went to die.

Have you driven this thing lately? If not, you're in for a big surprise.

Gone, for the most part, are the sounds of brakes squealing, horns blaring, metal crunching, curses shouted into the air. Gone is the serial flashing of the upraised middle finger that often occurred when one car cut off another.

Oh, it used to be fun to drive the roundabout, remember? Well, fun in the same way jabbing your eye with a fork is fun.

Then last week, the do-gooders at the State Highway Administration came in and changed the circle's traffic patterns.

They made the entrance from Allegheny Avenue one lane instead of two. They narrowed the exit to eastbound Joppa Road to a single lane.

They put in new pavement markings and signs and posts to direct motorists around the loop.

Sure, it slowed traffic down the way they intended.

Sure, it made it easier to get around, safer to negotiate and blah, blah, blah.

But what about the entertainment factor the roundabout used to provide?

What about the people - like, um, me - who used to love to sit outside Souris' Saloon with a meaty paw wrapped around a beer while watching the howling chaos in the circle?

What about the folks waiting for the buses who would lean against the window of Mattress Discounters on York Road and watch cars trying to exit the roundabout only to be trapped by the traffic flow and forced to drive around and around in Roundabout Hell like crazed rats, desperately looking for a way out?

What about the customers at Barnes & Noble who would vie for a window seat in the cafe in the hopes of seeing a car careen wildly around the circle and plow into another car trying to make the right onto Dulaney Valley Road?

What are we supposed to do for kicks now?

But I guess keeping us entertained wasn't a high priority with state officials.

And while it's only been a few days, the new roundabout is getting generally good reviews from motorists and Towson store owners.

"The reaction has been very supportive so far," said SHA spokesman David Buck.

"I'm very pleased with it," said Kathy Farrell, owner of Souris'. "It's much more defined. I think we won't have the problem of the outside lane cutting into the inside lane anymore."

But all this calm will definitely cut down on the excitement at Souris', where patrons at the outdoor tables once engaged in a host of drinking games connected to the old roundabout: Sip a beer whenever a horn blares; down a shot whenever there's an accident, etc.

"Maybe people will just drink slower now," Farrell said with a laugh.

The main problem with the old roundabout was that nobody knew how to drive it.

It was like the Gaza Strip, a cramped place teeming with angry, frustrated people who took the law into their own hands.

"Yield to traffic in circle," the signs said.

Except the signs might as well have been written in Arabic, for all the good they did.

Instead, the prevailing philosophy for driving the old roundabout was this: If you see the slightest opening, go for it.

Stomp on the gas. Burn rubber. Get in there, in that scrum of swirling, roaring traffic and may God help us all.

Don't give an inch, either - that was another dictum of the old roundabout.

If some poor soul tried to squeeze into your lane to make a turn, your job was to bulldog him and keep him out.

And whatever you did, you never stopped for pedestrians.

Oh, sometimes you'd slow up a little, so as not to slam into the person head-on, but deliver a glancing blow that would only lay the person up for a few weeks. But you never stopped.

Who did those people think they were, anyway? Walking all over the place with their ruddy cheeks and their glowing good health, getting fresh air and exercise ... they had some nerve, pedestrians.

But with this new roundabout, well, now it's all different.

Things are slower, saner.

If you like that sort of thing.


Read recent columns by Kevin Cowherd at baltimoresun .com/cowherd

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