Thursday, February 5, 2009

Roundabouts as fiscal stimulus

MR pointed to fiscal stimulus for bloggers and I thought I'd entertain myself with another idea based on John Staddon's article which I had related to something else previously here. John had written in the Atlantic that there were too many road signs in America and that the proliferation of signs had reduced humanity's ability to make judgments. (I overstate, but never mind.) He had also suggested replacing 4-way stops or 2-way stops + cross traffic does not stop signs with roundabouts and noted that in Britain some roundabouts are nothing more than a painted circle in the centre of the intersection.

For someone who lives in Washington DC, roundabouts in NW are just about the biggest nightmare. Take Westmoreland Circle. It has two lanes around the circle with six roads intersecting it and it seems that everyone is confused about which lane to be in - cars in the inner lane, i.e. closest to the center never seem to be able to change to the outer lane when they need to. In John's world, an ideal roundabout should only have one lane and everyone takes their turn merging into the circle. Washington DC drivers are not well known for courtesy so his suggestion to make roundabouts smaller as drivers get used to them (thereby making the approach roads to the roundabout longer) are not going to go down too well. Unless it's absolutely quiet I stay on the outside of the circle so that I can always get out at the road I want. Of course, I get honked by those who want to try to merge into the lane I'm in. Uggh! What a mess!

Next take Ward Circle. This is a roundabout with traffic lights! Talk about built in redundancies. I've been familiar with one or the other before moving here and I was amazed at this one when I first encountered it. After 10 years of living here I still end up in the wrong lanes going onto Massachusetts Ave from Nebraska. This is one miserable circle that should be ended.

But what does all this have to do with fiscal stimulus? For someone who is averse to all these large circles and who drives through neigborhoods to avoid the very large roundabouts I encounter a great deal of 4-way stop signs as well as the dreaded 2-way stops+cross traffic does not stop plust 2-way stops without the cross traffic does not stop. The last of these is my concern. Those with the stop don't always look to see if the traffic from the right or left has a stop and I've been in many near collisions in these intersections (some of these are my fault.)

I think a roundabout in all neighborhoods are a great idea and good use of fiscal stimulus funds. These are small projects that can be undertaken by neighborhood associations or even homeowners. They can be spent quickly (which is good, right?) by going to the neighborhood landscape or garden store (Buy American is good, right?) and they also have positive side effects:
1. Fewer stop signs means fewer stop and go for the car which reduces greenhouse gases.
2. While painted cricles are fine, I prefer potted plants or a large ficus tree in a large pot. More plants = less CO2 and perhaps even more Christmas lights. No we don't really want those because of the extra energy they consume so scratch Christmas lights.
3. Fewer stop signs means we are forced to think and use our judgment which means we become wiser and perhaps if we had been wiser we might not have gotten into this financial crisis in the first place.
4. Quick to implement - Team Obama signs it into law and all we need to do is save our receipts and go up to the Treasury steps where Secretary Geithner is hanging out who can then reimburse us and perhaps use our receipts for his tax deductions. Recycle, reuse and reduce!
5. It may even start a bubble in the landscaping industry which is just what we need to lift us out of our recession. Overinvestment in plants and trees which is in turn good for the earth - a positive externality from a bubble at last!

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