IN THE CANDID CORNER: Roundabout solutions
By Matthew Farley | Sun, April 29, 2012 - 12:00 AM
A circle is a reflection of eternity. It has no beginning and it has no end . . . . – Maynard Keenan
Recently, I met a friend from Jamaica who described Barbados as the “round-a-bout capital of the Caribbean”, if not the world.
I responded with much surprise at first, but on further reflection, I tried to understand his perspective.
As the conversation progressed, he outlined the reason for his thinking.
First, in the literal sense, he said for a small country, Barbados has too many roundabouts. He recalled the plans of the former Government to build “flyovers” at various points along the ABC Highway. I asked him how could you describe a flyover as a roundabout solution?
As he put it, how can anyone be so stupid to believe that a small country like Barbados could accommodate flyovers? He further asked: “Over to where would the traffic fly? In the sea?”
It was the barrage of questions that my Jamaican friend posed that challenged me to consider his thoughts even further. So let’s say we built a flyover from east of Norman Niles Roundabout going westward, where would it “dump” the traffic?
Wouldn’t it create an even greater bottleneck either in the Bridge Road or Eagle Hall areas?
I do not purport to be an engineer or road builder, so I claim ignorance and accept that I am out of my league. So, as my Jamaican friend puts it, that is a classic example of a solution that puts you back to “square one”.
Given our land mass, the flyover solution would simply move traffic from one bottleneck into another. Thus, his first point about the roundabout solution.
Then, he looked at the high roundabout density of Barbados. He said between the Grantley Adams International Airport and the University Hill there are no fewer than ten roundabouts.
I strongly affirmed that the highway and its chain of roundabouts certainly help to ease the traffic congestion. In fact, I find it to be an easy getaway and a way of circumventing the hustle and the bustle of the city.
His beef was that it seems that the Ministry of Transport and Works believes the solution to every traffic problem or highway challenge is a roundabout.
After I had endured the bombardment from my friend from the land of reggae, he insisted that I should read the comments of political scientist and pollster Peter Wickham on the Alexandra affair.
In a Dawne Parris story headlined A Political Blunder, in which Mr Wickham gives his view on the Prime Minister’s Alexandra move, he apparently brings a similar perspective to bear on the issue (SATURDAY SUN April 21).
According to Wickham: “Putting the dispute in the hands of a body which could only make recommendations was a delaying tactic.”
He contends that even if the commission [of enquiry] reached its conclusion, the Prime Minister would still have to resolve the issue himself.
Mr Wickham even goes further to suggest that we might, put differently be “spinning top in mud”. According to him, “ . . . the commission will hear the same evidence that everyone has heard . . . the same evidence that the school inspectors heard”.
It was at this point that I had to concede that the “roundabout” perspective of my Jamaican friend was very interesting, though I stopped short of concurring with his assessment, for I did not want to prejudge the work that the distinguished retired Justice of Appeal Frederick Waterman would be doing on the Alexandra affair as mandated by the Prime Minister.
But how much do we know about this traffic mechanism? The roundabout was invented in England in 1966 and is used all over Europe, Asia and Australia to great effect. For many Americans, it epitomizes European driving.
The traffic circle is much older, dating back to the late 19th century United States (although some claim it was a French invention) and is most commonly found in North America, where it is a widely maligned and hated mechanism.
The inventor Frank Blackmore was an engineer.
He rose through the ranks to be government traffic engineer at a time when Britain was facing a major traffic congestion problem. He is credited for saving a lot of time on the roads, getting rid of traffic congestions and reducing accidents.
So, whether you like it or not, roundabouts are part and parcel of our lives and our society. Like a crossroad, a roundabout may be seen as a point of decision making.
May Sarton says: “Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help.”
Volumes have been written about life and its circularity. In literature, the circle evokes powerful symbolism.
Frank Dane puts it nicely when he asserts: “Blessed is he who talks in circles, for he shall become a big wheel.”
So, if in real terms, our roundabouts continue to be maligned and are seen as poor traffic solutions, perhaps we should take refuge in the powerful symbolism which they offer.
In this way, we could avoid the almost nauseating giddiness that gets us all nowhere.
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