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2011 City Guide: Traffic Circles

kc kratt

As a full-time freelancer in and around thee city of Buffalo I spend a lot of time behind the wheel of my sporty Subaru, driving from job to job, oftentimes zooming around at least one of the region’s rotaries—a.k.a. roundabouts, or traffic circles—meant to force the driver to maintain a slower speed in order to avoid hitting curbs, other vehicles, or overturning. While approaching and (let’s be honest) racing about these driving situations, one may experience jolts of adrenaline, and, quite possibly, mild road rage at those who don’t seem to abide by, pay attention to, or ever have learned the simple right-of-way rules of rotaries.

R-O-W (as shortened by those in the DOT know) falls firmly on the shoulders—and bumpers—of those who are already within the circle of a rotary. Approaching vehicles are to yield to those already in the circle. Some rotaries in Buffalo—including Niagara Square in front of City Hall or Gates Circle on Delaware Avenue—have been around since the Victorian era. The two traffic lights on Niagara Square are meant to slow traffic so that pedestrians may cross into, and across, the Square. Anyone who has ever tried to walk across this circle knows the value of these lights, as traffic whirls into the circle from Court, Delaware, Niagara, Genesee, and nearby Elmwood Avenue.

The most challenging of all the region’s roundabouts, however, is the interlocking, double-helix complexity of the two circles along Harlem Road near the Snyder/Cheektowaga border, where one may spin off at Wehrle or Kensington or continue on Harlem. After two years of construction, these roundabouts were completed in 2008 for a cost of $21 million. The first time I encountered this motoring mayhem I ended up heading in a completely unintended direction after rounding. This plan may prevent crashes, but it does nothing to diminish confusion. There are also four fairly-new roundabouts in the Village of Hamburg, where unsafe intersections were replaced after some pedestrian deaths. Fans should visit www.roundaboutsusa.com where they can learn that “1963 marked the start of the modern roundabout era” in England, where the circles spin in the opposite direction.

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