Ryan Slabaugh: Round and round and round we go
November 20, 2008
A few years ago, a documentary filmmaker named Rick Magnuson spent a day in a roundabout. In a scene neither sides of the Kings Beach debate would have foreseen, Magnuson loaded up a yellow Ryder truck with his three goldfish and a video camera and drove around in circles, for hours.
While Magnuson, an artist of the Gonzo Journalism persuasion who eventually ran for sheriff, may have enjoyed himself that day, commuters did not. A few called the police, according to a news article about it, relaying “You’ll never going to believe …” stories to the dispatcher.
“Conceptual art isn’t rational ” it doesn’t make sense, and it doesn’t have to,” Magnuson explained. “It’s OK in our culture to drive in a circle if you’re going to work, but it’s not OK if you’re doing it for art. That’s a funny perspective.”
During rush hour, Magnuson did pull to the side after a few friendly suggestions from the local police, not to mention the one-fingered salutes from those less appreciative of Rick’s creativity. But by the time he started again in the evening, word had spread. When he looked in his rearview mirror, the filmmaker found cars joining him in the dizzying joy ride.
More than anything, Magnuson told reporters after he finished, he wanted to bring a new type of art to the public. What he did not anticipate doing is proving two things:
1) Roundabouts increase a driver’s awareness, thus making them safer; and
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2) Contrary to public opinion, big yellow Ryder trucks can coexist in roundabouts.
Back in Tahoe-ville, Placer County and a citizens group are bickering over the potential impact of three-laning the highway and adding a roundabout. While the county approved the idea, the citizens group said the report forgot to include all the impacts to air quality, traffic, noise and public safety.
These are points certainly worth anticipating, but tough to predict. So I did some research and found roundabouts, much to my surprise, to be much-studied entities, and every project, other than Mr. Magnuson’s, has looked primarily at safety. Their conclusions were eerily similar: If the roundabouts are designed correctly, with proper lines of sight and clearly marked lanes, they are much safer than traffic lights. (The modern roundabout, which wasn’t designed until 1991, mandates such signage and road markings.)
According to the Insurance Institute for Vehicle Safety, in a study of 24 intersections in the United States where stop signs and traffic signals were replaced with modern roundabouts, there was a 39 percent decrease in crashes, a 79 percent decrease in injuries and a 90 percent decrease in fatalities.
The opponents would argue, though, that traffic is moving slower through the intersection, causing more noise and more localized pollution. So who gains what?
Alas, we’ll let the attorneys volley about the numbers. While they do, we’ll step back and watch a public process that rivals the madness of Magnuson’s artistic experiment. Take his word for it:
“This is a conceptual art piece about moving around and around in circles,” he said.
In Kings Beach, where the highway is jammed with a few political Ryder Trucks, what we have to enjoy is a scene much more literal.
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