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VOL. 45 | NO. 14 | Friday, April 2, 2021

Anyone else have trouble with our roundabouts? No?

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Well, I thought, this is embarrassing. After more than 50 years without a single moving violation or accident counted against me, I reckon myself as well above average on the driver scale. Superior, even.

And yet, the motorcycle cop in my rear-view mirror with his lights flashing seemed to indicate an infraction of some sort on my part. What had I just done, other than to successfully navigate the roundabout at Korean Veterans Boulevard, Eighth Avenue and Lafayette Street in Nashville?

You know, the one with the multicolored poles, a landmark I refer to (not approvingly) as the Pixie Sticks.

(Side note: The artwork, actual title Stix and consisting of 27 striped, multicolored poles, “is the most expensive public art piece ever in Nashville,” at $750,000, Nashville Lifestyles reports.)

It’s a traffic device installed in 2012, during my extended absence from Nashville, and not one common in this country. But I’m familiar with the concept, owing to various car trips in England, Wales, Scotland and both the Irelands. There they not only install roundabouts at every opportunity, but also make you drive around them in the opposite direction: clockwise. ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD. Left lane.

Clearly, ours are just mirror images. So, what could my problem have been here? I had both entered and – after some minor veering – exited from the correct lane.

That veering, the officer said, was the problem. A successful roundabout navigation, it turns out, does not necessarily mean a legal one.

A bit of background.

Nashville has seven full-size roundabouts, says Derek Hagerty, a transportation engineer with Metro Public Works. The first went up at Music Row in 1995, what is now known as Buddy Killen Circle in memory of the famed record producer and music publisher.

(Another side note: The 40-foot sculpture there of nine cavorting nudes, Musica, is possibly the most laughable public art piece in Nashville. We’d be better served erecting a giant rendering of a delicious Greek casserole and calling it Moussaka.)

There are plans for more roundabouts, Hagerty says, with three potential locations on Metro’s Capital Projects website. I asked what factors determine placements.

“The trigger for a traffic control device of any type is either high volumes resulting in unreasonably high delays to road users or safety issues,” he explains. “Once those volumes or safety issues are apparent, roundabouts are considered when there is a history of serious ‘T-bone’ crashes, when the goal is to reduce speed, and in many conditions they result in greater efficiency.”

Upfront costs for roundabouts are generally higher, but maintenance is significantly lower than for signals, Hagerty adds.

Still, safety is their strong point. The Federal Highway Administration, he says, “has found a 78% reduction in severe crashes when comparing roundabouts to signalized intersections.”

OK. Point taken. Driving in circles reduces T-bones.

I asked whether Hagerty thinks Nashville drivers know how to properly negotiate a roundabout.

“I think not only do Nashville drivers know how to negotiate roundabouts, but so do our out-of-town visitors,” he adds. “Two of our roundabouts (KVB at Eighth, Music Square) are near popular tourist areas, which means drivers from all over the world are negotiating them.”

This was not the answer I was expecting. The answer I was expecting was, “No, they do not,” because that is my opinion.

The facts from my own example seemed indisputable. A police officer had told me that I had driven incorrectly on the roundabout in question. I am a superior driver. Ipso facto, roundabouts are traffic puzzles that confound even the best of us.

By the way, the officer’s explanation of my error was that I had entered the roundabout via the lane that is designated only for an immediate right onto Eighth Avenue North, but had instead proceeded 180 degrees around to exit toward Eighth Avenue South. Thereby posing a hazard to fellow drivers.

In my defense, I could have argued that it appeared to me the general traffic pattern on the roundabout indicated that the rule was “every man for himself.”

However, I made no defense to the officer. I smiled (beneath my mask), thanked him for not giving me a ticket, and promised I would not make the same mistake again.

A promise I’ve kept by driving miles out of my way when necessary to avoid that Pixie Sticks roundabout again. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com

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