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COMMUNITY VOICE

Remember the days when drivers could just go in a straight line?

Friday, July 18, 2014 - 12:01 am

Solving problems is very worthwhile – as long as one recognizes that every solution introduces a new slate of problems. Ben Brickman’s article on roundabouts in Monday’s News-Sentinel brought to mind many “solutions” to traffic problems I’ve experienced over the years.

Some readers may be familiar with the Wayne Trace-Pontiac Street interchange — as it was originally configured. I mastered that marvel of traffic engineering after using it twice daily for several years. The peculiar layout not only allowed Wayne Trace and Pontiac Street to cross one another, but also permitted both to pass under a busy railroad. This was all accomplished without traffic lights or crossing controls, and also managed to incorporate access to Pioneer Street, Fenker Avenue, Adams, Turpie, and Edsall. My assumption has always been that the proximity of International Harvester’s huge plant, at one time employing over 10,000 people, made this traffic pretzel seem like a good idea.

One Saturday, however, I found myself negotiating the Wayne Trace-Pontiac interchange while traveling between lumber yards. Although my thoughts were focused on a woodworking project, I did notice an Oldsmobile with Michigan license plate warily navigating the interchange. An elderly woman was at the helm and appeared confused. However, when I returned to the intersection two hours later, she was still there! Her husband seemed a little beyond being able to help her, but I found her outside the car crying and obviously feeling hopeless. I was happy to lead her out of the maze and get them back on their way toward New Haven.

Brickman’s article reminded me that all such traffic conundrums are now resolved by the installation of a traffic circle. In fact, the Wayne Trace-Pontiac debacle now has two such circles – one on each side of the railroad track. I can’t say that it is any easier to figure out where you are going or how to get there, but the new circles do make a tired part of town seem more up to date.

For many decades, we in the Midwest were largely free of such innovations, and better off for it. Not counting Indy’s Monument Circle, or Angola’s quaint downtown, we Hoosiers could pretty much follow a straight path to wherever we wanted to go. Now, however, the mysterious people who once gave us crop circles have moved their craft to Indiana roadways, and we will never be the same.

Brickman tried to lay out some universal rules, such as never change lanes after entering the circle. Really? How can you know what you need to do until you see a sign that tells you? Multiple lanes are the bugbear in negotiating the newer circles. As nearly as I can tell, the inner lane can only be used for repeated revolutions around the circle. A good idea might be to put a gas station or some fast food or even a licensed mental health professional in the middle.

The article also gives instructions for making left turns. Again, really? How can you turn left out of a circle which only proceeds to the right? Or wait, every time you enter a circle, you turn right. But then you turn back left in order to make the curve. But then you turn right again to leave the circle, even if you are not where you want to be. I am confused. Maybe I need to go to the Carmel-Fishers area north of Indy. I hear that they have installed over 90 traffic circles, and I feel like I’ve negotiated 87 of them every time I visit my niece.

Those Hamilton County circles have introduced another bane to confident driving: symbols which seem to have been borrowed from the Ancient Aliens movement. Hieroglyphics from an unknown source with no decipherable meaning assault drivers whose heads are still spinning from the last circle. What is it they want me to do?

Well, Allen County also has a growing number of traffic circles, but we have not yet settled on a standard design. Have you been through the one on Coventry Lane? Its center is no bigger than our dining table, which is not big enough to put your elbows on. Yet new circles planned for the Fairfield-Ewing area and proposed for curvy State Boulevard show continuing experimentation rather than one well-thought-out solution which could encourage universal driving practices.

Fort Wayne’s ace-in-the-hole, however, has to be the Union Chapel hallucination. Instead of simple confusing circles, we will get to experience crossing oncoming traffic for the privilege of passing one another on the right instead of the left – before crossing back again. For once, the Summit City is really leading the pack. For those of us too timid for the Union Chapel experience, there is always the opportunity to spend the day locked into the inner lane of a nearby traffic circle. Long live the revolution!

Richard “Dick” Hatch is a resident of Fort Wayne.