Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Cool Thing of the Day: Park Circle Renovation

Currently, Park Circle is not so much a "circle" as a "knot of five roads that roughly forms something like a circle." Rather than acting like a normal circle, such as you might see literally anywhere else on Earth wherein traffic entering the circle yields to traffic already in the circle, Park Circle has four points where traffic in the circle yields to traffic entering the circle. The whole thing is an absolute mess and I have long said that Hagerstown should make it a tourist spot. Stupidest Circle in the World. Honestly, you have to see it to believe it.

Below is a screenshot from Google Earth. It's a little outdated. The orange triangle shows where an island and crosswalks have since been built, and now-completed construction is visible, circled in orange, at the right. The green arrows show where traffic does not have to yield to enter or continue through the circle. The red arrows show where traffic does have to yield. Like I said, it's a mess.

I learned today that apparently the type of traffic "pattern" that Park Circle uses actually has a name. It's called a rotary pattern. In his proposal to the city council, City Engineer Rodney Tissue states, "[i]n recent years, we have converted all the traffic circles in the City from a rotary operation ... to roundabouts... except for Park Circle." I had no idea that we even HAD other circles in the city (excepting the Second Stupidest Circle in the World, just a couple blocks away from City Park, but that's a story for another day, maybe), and if I had known that, I would have been equally confused by their "rotary" pattern as I am by Park Circle's (we apparently have FIVE other circles, though Lord knows where they are). Tissue also states that, "[n]ationally, rotary operations began falling out of favor in the late 1950's." No wonder I had never heard the phrase before. That gives you an idea how desperately we need this change.

As you have probably guessed by the above quote, Mr. Tissue's proposal is for Park Circle to finally be a real boy circle. And the city council approved it! Not unanimously, surprisingly, even though this project - $260,000 altogether - will only cost the city a mere $23,266 thanks to state grants. This is desperately needed. Park Circle is a busy intersection, and out-of-towners are often confused by its pattern. I have personally witnessed many, many near-collisions in the circle. To make the situation worse, Park Circle is situated, as its name suggests, right in front of City Park, which is something of a tourist attraction, as far as anything in Hagerstown goes.

Park Circle is going to be fixed, at last. This is definitely a Cool Thing.

Now for the nuts and bolts of the decision. The two council members who voted against this much-needed improvement were Kristin Aleshire and Penny Nigh. Aleshire, amusingly, is concerned that there will be more traffic accidents if the pattern is changed. Maybe at first, while people used to the old pattern adjust to the new pattern, there will be a handful of fender benders, but in the long run, and especially if the city is successful in bringing in more people from out-of-town, this pattern change will reduce accidents. We've got to think long-term. Aleshire's thinking is akin to someone not ever buying new shoes because their feet might hurt as they're breaking them in. It's short-sighted nonsense.

A previous proposal to convert Park Circle into a roundabout pattern was denied in April 2006. I can only hope it was due to funding, not due to the then-council members thinking the "knot" pattern was perfectly fine.

With the current traffic pattern, a driver might have to stop and yield to traffic up to three times to get through the circle. Tissue's attached Herald Mail article quotes someone as saying that a driver may have to yield four times, but I can't figure out how that would be possible.

Ultimately, the new pattern will be oval-shaped to allow each road direct access to the circle. Additional sidewalks and landscaping will also be added, so I'm sure it will look really nice. I am so excited about this!

Scroll to the bottom of this page for some informative PDFs, including a drawing of the proposed improvements
Herald Mail: Hagerstown Council Approves Park Circle Project

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