you call that a roundabout? you can’t be serious!

Holy crap! We’re in the middle of a major project in De Pere to build a new bridge over the Fox River. The existing Claude Allouez Bridge is 75 years old and needs to be replaced. It’s taken us a decade of talking and debating to get to where we are now. As a result, the new bridge is set to open on October 7. That’s the good news.

roundaboutThe most controversial part of the new bridge and all the associated street reconstruction is the new 2-lane roundabout at the bridge approach on the east side of the river. The roundabout is now 3/4 open. It’s been open for a couple of weeks now, and we are confused. There are so many scenarios and examples of roundabout use that just don’t make sense. The instructions that have been provided by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation attempt to explain everything and make it easy. But just the opposite has occurred. And now it’s even more confusing.

I work at St. Norbert College, right on the Fox River, right there next to the bridge. I work with many people who use the bridge on a daily basis, and every single person I’ve spoken with has doubts. They explain various scenarios that just don’t seem to work. The general feeling is that there is no confidence that this will work (disclaimer: this is my own personal observation based on my conversations with the people I interact with on a daily basis, including other De Pere residents who I don’t work with).

I’ve driven through the roundabout on numerous occassions. Frequently, I’m traveling south on Broadway and need to go east on Wisconsin St. So I go 3/4 of the way around in the center lane, and get out at Wisconsin. This means I have to cross the outside lane to exit the roundabout. This would be fine except that since it is rush hour, there is a steady stream of cars going north on Broadway wanting to continue north through the roundabout. Since I’m crossing their lane, this means that they need to wait while they yield to the stream of cars that I’m in. And they wait a considerable amount of time, backed up a couple of blocks. This sure doesn’t seem like efficient traffic flow to me.

The D.O.T. has their buzz phrases to solve all these scenarios, like “get in the correct lane before entering the roundabout” and “don’t change lanes in the roundabout”. And they refer us to the instructions that I previously mentioned. And that’s what I want to draw your attention to. The instructions.

Have you ever heard of such a thing? I’ve been driving for 28 years now. I’ve driven on hundreds of types of roads, every speed you can imagine, through dozens of states. I have never encountered a road that required a brochure to explain how to use it. Never. But we have one. Actually more than one. Here they are:

I’m assuming you’ve looked at them now. What do you think? Am I nuts? Don’t even look at the details, just look at the overall appearance of the map with all the colors and lines. It’s utterly ridiculous! Are you a visitor? How do you feel about driving through our town, using a roundabout that required a brochure that was only distributed to the locals? Any roundabout that needs a map like that just shouldn’t exist. If it’s that confusing, just put in a regular intersection with traffic signals. Then I’ll give you the instructions in four words: IF IT’S GREEN, GO.

I’m thinking back to the planning stages. When it was announced that there would be a two-lane roundabout, it raised many eyebrows. But if they had said that not only will it be a two-lane roundabout, but the type of roundabout we’re going to use will require a brochure and map in order to understand it, there’s no way we would have allowed it.

Did you also check out the “biking and walking” map above? Did you notice the little box for pedestrians where it says, “find a gap in the traffic and then cross…there will be an island to provide refuge between the lanes…” Refuge!? If I’m a pedestrian, I’m gonna need refuge? What the hell is going on here?

The new 4-lane bridge will open in October, at which time the final 1/4 of the roundabout will open. Time will tell how things go. I’ll be spending some time at the roundabout with my video camera to record the activities. Of course I hope it works, and it just might. But if I were a betting man, my money would be against it.

We tore down many buildings to make way for all the new approaches to the bridge. We should have just used all the acquired land to put in a simple controlled intersection, with right and left turn lanes on all four approaches. It’s a plan that would work for everyone. And it would have saved Wisconsin taxpayers the cost of printing brochures and maps.