Roundabouts squared

It’s interesting to consider the subject of a roundabout on U.S. 50 at Hampshire High School. As mentioned in the Hampshire Review, the roundabout at U.S. 50 and 15 at Gilbert’s Corner in Virginia works quite well though it looks like ol’ Gilbert got his corners rounded off. There are other examples nearby. Further along U.S. 50 is another roundabout that operates quite pleasantly. The new roundabout at business Route 7 and Route 287 east of Purcellville is another romp in the park as is the roundabout at the new Clarke County High School near Berryville.

With their decorative herringbone brick paving and daffodil crops in their grassy middles, navigating a roundabout can be an enjoyable experience. Add to this the naturally gracious and friendly character of Virginia and West Virginia drivers as they slow down and greet each other with a friendly wave and a roundabout can be downright cuddly.

So much for the Shenandoah Valley and Virginia Hunt Country perspective regarding roundabouts, which does the reader no real service. Don’t be fooled by the warmth and innocence projected by these structures. Once a roundabout establishes itself in the landscape, it begins to grow and harden until it becomes a traffic circle.

For example, the ancient traffic circles in New Jersey have names, mean reputations and even some rather disturbing urban legends. Some of these traffic circles are: The Route 1 Circle, The Freehold Circle and that most infamous of all, my alma mater, The Somerville Circle.

Like a black hole in space, the Somerville Circle pulls in any vehicle within its reach. By the time that you’ve said the customary three Hail Mary’s, you’ve already gone around this swirling vortex of automotive anarchy more than 20 times.

Instead of ornate brickwork, the decor of the typical New Jersey traffic circle is more given to soot blackened near century-old concrete reinforced with the steel of forgotten prosperity and the remains of retired mobsters. Rather than a flowered median, one is more likely to see the barbed wire and foxholes of those who were unable to find escape.

With arteries that lead directly into two large shopping malls, drivers on the Somerville Circle are often caught up in a feeding frenzy of consumerism while other drivers grimly pound their way toward New York City. On “The Circle,” the normally sensible Jersey driver adopts the aggressive characteristics of his counterparts to the east across the Hudson. If only they would instead emulate their neighbors to the west across the Delaware. My father often wondered over this and, while teaching me how to navigate the Circle, would say: “Look out, them ain’t Amish buggies coming at you doin’ eighty.”

He did, though, recall seeing a tractor caught in circle traffic. The driver’s knuckles were white — afraid to let go of the wheel in order to signal a turn. His hat flew off and his hair became noticeably whiter as he went ‘round and ‘round. I don’t know how he eventually escaped but I do have a theory. Being swept along by the traffic, the tractor and driver eventually developed enough centrifugal force to be flung out of this orbit and into the rurals of Hunterdon County from which they would never again stray.

My real trial by fire on “The Circle” happened when I got into the inside lane while driving a solid paneled van. Imagine my surprise when I checked the passenger’s side mirror in order to change lanes only to find that it had fallen off. I would still be there today if one of my cousins hadn’t spotted my plight. Driving his huge dump truck, he pulled alongside to let me know that he was there then dropped back to hold the traffic back while I made my escape. I progressed to become one of the most proficient circle navigators that the Garden State has ever known.

I had better wrap this up before I expose my dark side; a battle hardened Von Richthofen of the Jersey traffic circles. If there does appear one of those cute “roundabouts” on Route 50 at Hampshire High, I encourage anyone who shares my history to hang a battle scarred and dented expired New Jersey license plate on the front of their vehicle as a warning to other drivers — it would be the right thing to do.

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