In 1962 The Kingston Trio asked, “But did he ever return? No, he never returned. And his fate is still unlearned. He may ride forever ‘neath the streets of Boston. And he is the man who never returned.”
I think I know where he is.
The new traffic circle at McKaig and Dorset in Troy is completed and open. By my reckoning, it’s open a little ahead of schedule, much to the relief of the hundreds of people who pass through this congested intersection daily. It’s such an improvement. There used to be what is commonly called a four-way stop there. But the number four grossly underestimated what took place at the crossroads. Going north, two lanes of traffic met at the intersection. Going south, three lanes vied for crossing. Already I don’t recall how many lanes approached the stop from the east and west. One or two each so let’s call it a total of three to play the odds. That means it really was a three plus two plus three … an eight-way stop. At the busiest times, there were potentially eight cars at the intersection, very few of whom kept track of whose turn it was to proceed. This inattention snarled the traffic nicely, causing heartburn and honking and hateful invectives, none of which is restful.
So we have a wonderful new traffic aid. Now if people only knew how to use it. After a couple of false starts, the city of Troy almost has the traffic circle in the downtown area right. The notion of the required right turn in the far right lane still makes no sense but at least those crazy traffic lights are gone and the right people are yielding to the right people. The circle at McKaig and Dorset is apparently just different enough to cause some staggering confusion among motorists. At this intersection there is a solitary entry lane from all directions. Again, I’m not quite sure why the city went to all this trouble and expense to put in half the lanes we need but I’m sure some traffic engineer who doesn’t live here could explain it.
The theory of the traffic circle, as I understand it, is that one is not required to come to a full stop if there is no conflicting traffic. One is not required to come to any sort of stop. That is the salient point here: no stop is necessary if the coast is clear. This is what keeps traffic moving … the absence of unnecessary stops. Look to your left. If there is not a motor vehicle already occupying that space, keep rolling. And this, more’s the pity, is the part people aren’t getting. Mostly people are coming to a halt when they don’t have to. It’s as though they’re thinking, “I’ve been coming to a full stop at this intersection for forty years. Not going to change now.” It is not fun to be behind these people because their actions simply snowball. When they stop, the person behind them is forced to stop, even if they know better. The person behind them, alas, is usually me. But every once in a while we get some cowboy with a large sense of entitlement who is going to enter that traffic circle, come what may. Unfortunately, what may come sometimes is a Buick. The curbs around the circle are bright and white and largely unscathed. For now. They do not constitute an avenue of escape for those who find both their assured clear distance and their options dwindling.
And the man who never returned? The latest time I spun around McKaig Dorset there was a truck which was either lost or doing a heck of an imitation of lost. The guy got into the circle with no problem at all. Once ensconced, however, he was apparently puzzled about the dismount. He just kept going round and round with no attempt to exit onto one of the feeder roads. For all I know he is there still … the man who never returned. I really don’t know because I didn’t stop to see how it all ended. Get that? Didn’t stop.
Marla Boone resides in Covington and writes for Miami Valley Today.