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Column: 'Round and 'round we'll go

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opinion Farmington, 55024

Farmington Minnesota P.O. Box 192 / 312 Oak St. 55024

My day-to-day life got just the tiniest bit more annoying this week. Early Tuesday morning construction crews closed Highway 3 to traffic between Farmington and Rosemount to install a roundabout, a traffic feature that is part intersection, part landscaping feature and part carnival ride.

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The Independent's office is in Farmington, but with a Rosemount newspaper to publish each week I spend a fair amount of time exploring our neighbor to the north. I make the drive up and down Highway 3 several times a week. This is a project that affects me and that I can only imagine will frequently make me dizzy once it's finished sometime around the end of September.

Granted, a lot of people who know a lot more than I do about traffic management are convinced roundabouts are the future of keeping people safe on the road. And, sure, the roundabout concept has a long history. They've been used for decades in Europe, presumably with no significant ill effects. I think the hit Dead or Alive song "You Spin me Round (Like a Record)" might even have been inspired by a roundabout. And if a bunch of people who can't even figure out which side of the road to drive on can make it through in one piece, then why can't we, a nation with the skill behind the wheel necessary to eat a three-course meal, read a map and tap out text messages at highway speed?

Still, I have misgivings. Although they're based on nothing more significant than watching people try to drive through an actual roundabout.

There are two roundabouts I travel through on a semi-regular basis. The larger of the two is located between me and the Target and Home Depot stores closest to my home. In the weeks after I bought my house I went through it something like 16 times a day as I discovered basic necessities of life I was suddenly lacking. The other is on a route I occasionally take either to or from work. In recent weeks, as I found myself contemplating what will soon become of the main route between the two places where I spend the majority of my working life, I found myself on several occasions wanting to shout what we'll refer to here as helpful instructions to people who would come to a full stop at the entrance to the traffic circle when there were no cars approaching or slow dramatically while going around to let in someone trying to enter the circle. Sometimes I felt the urge to use what I'll call a friendly pointing gesture to accompany my instructions.

I should point out, the speed limit on both of these traffic circles is less than 35 miles per hour. I'm sure everyone will get it down when they're driving 55, though.

There are some reasonable-sounding reasons for installing more roundabouts. Roundabouts, the theory goes, do a better job than stoplights of both calming traffic speeds and keeping cars moving in an orderly fashion. After watching a parade of brake lights come on in front of me recently I can't argue the first part of that, though I might take issue with the second. People slowing for roundabouts (assuming they don't choose to simply throw their SUV into four-wheel-drive and go through the middle) also means the accidents that happen there will be less severe than what would happen if someone ran a red light.

And, who knows? Maybe that's all true. I just think we might need to spring for a roundabout instruction course for everyone before we open this sucker up to traffic.

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