Attack of the roundabouts

Roundabout at Union and 19th in Kennewick

About two decades ago, there was a proliferation of new roundabouts, aka traffic circles or rotaries, in the City of Kennewick. When I say proliferation, I mean that it looks like someone moved to Kennewick from across the pond (what was formerly known as the motherland for many Americans) and decided that roundabouts needed to be added to as many intersections as possible. Or maybe that someone was a Clark Griswold fan.

The list is long. They threw them onto old streets, like Kellogg or Union and 4th, and they started putting them into new construction like Irving and Creekstone or Ridgeline and Southridge Boulevard. By 2014, the city owned 19 roundabouts, more than any other city in Washington.

Of course, the state needed to get in on the action, so they built a roundabout at Steptoe and Columbia Park Trail and the monstrous double roundabout at Highway 240 and the Blue Bridge, both of which have required numerous safety revisions and have been magnets for traffic accidents.

But one roundabout towered above them all in attracting inattentive drivers like a moth to a flame: the mini-roundabout that was jammed into the intersection of Union and 19th Avenue in 2003. You could say that “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night” has stopped this roundabout from attracting collisions. Year after year, sometimes month after month, this roundabout has seen its disproportionate share of drivers sliding through, crashing into curbs and fences, and leaving traces of glass and metal for weeks to come.

Over time, city engineers recognized a problem. This was due in large part to the property owner who kept on having to replace his broken fence to the point he installed a camera just to catch the hit-and-run drivers. So, the City added extra reflective signage around the roundabout and reflective paint on the street. But, it appears it may have been all for naught.

I say this because two weeks ago, on a clear and dry evening, the roundabout struck again.

This particular driver was charged with DUI, but that hasn’t usually been the case. The State of Washington says that roundabouts are safer than traffic lights. It seems obvious that this would be the case because they force drivers to slow down. However, something about the slope and the size of this roundabout just doesn’t lend itself to safely driving through, especially if you’re coming from the south.

At this point, we should all be pretty proficient at driving through these roundabouts, but if you’re not, I recommend two things: watch the clip of the Griswolds trying to exit a roundabout on European Vacation; then, only if you can do this safely, navigate the entire roundabout at least once in his honor. I know, this is not as cool as naming it the “Clark Griswold Memorial Roundabout“, but it’s close.

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