Where we stop, nobody knows …
April 14, 2005
For the last month, the paper has run about a dozen letters addressing the idea of a roundabout being pursued by freshman city councilman Ted Long and supporters. The reason we’ve given this issue so much space is because of the timing: It’s great to have a discussion about something in a public forum before it is even put on the table. It gives local government the opportunity to gauge an issue’s popularity and whether it deserves to be pursued further.
So far, the constituents have had mixed reactions to the roundabout idea, according to the variety of letters we get. Some feel roundabouts are becoming more common and more mainstream in the United States, and therefore a viable solution to traffic problems. Others feel it’s a recipe for disaster at Lake Tahoe’s busiest intersection, especially on days when traffic is backed up from Meyers.
Although the idea is worth considering – it received a thumbs up in a report prepared for the city – I guess I would fall in a third camp of people, who feel a roundabout is not suitable for the South Shore because of people’s driving habits. And it’s not just the driving habits of locals and visitors I would worry about, it’s the driving habits of Americans as a whole.
It’s not that we drive worse than Europeans, it’s that we drive different. We drive big, lumbering cars – Chevy Suburbans and Cadillacs – while they drive zippy, sporty models – like Smartcars and Alfa Romeos. Europeans drive faster than we do, and follow the rules of common sense (except in Italy) rather than the law. You’ll rarely see a slow driver in the fast lane on the Autobahn, for example. Here you can’t drive anywhere without somebody imposing their “duty as a citizen” to control the speed limit … with left blinker flashing.
Americans root for NASCAR, where part of the strategy is to bump other drivers on an oval track. Europeans drive open-wheel Formula 1 cars, where bumping at 200 mph will likely result in death. And they make right-hand turns during their races.
The two mentalities couldn’t be more different.
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It could be that Europeans learn to drive on old, narrow streets originally built for horse and carriage. Most of our interstate highway system was built in the 1950s. Big roads, for big cars. And we have 18-wheel semi-trucks in the United States. It’s what we are used to.
But I’m trying to approach the issue with an open mind. Roundabouts might eventually gain universal appeal here. There is one in Truckee (on icy days there is often a car high-centered on the island), and they are about to break ground on a pair of roundabouts at the 89-80 intersection. There is a roundabout in Carson City (ask your Carson City friends about that nightmare), and of course they are becoming more and more common throughout the states. If there is a way to avoid gridlock on those Highway 50 nightmare days, a roundabout could fly in South Tahoe.
And can we afford it? That’s another issue. The debate will continue.
— n n
On a sad note, the Tribune and its readers are saying good-bye to a standout staff member. Five-year veteran environmental reporter Greg Crofton is off to Nashville, Tenn., for a change of pace and scenery.
Greg leaves a strong legacy of solid journalism at the Tribune. Over the years, he has won many awards and accolades for his coverage of Lake Tahoe environmental issues, but it is his presence at the office that we will miss most.
Day in and day out, Greg always put his heart into his work, and his enthusiasm for storytelling rubbed off on the rest of us. I’ve only had the pleasure of working with Greg for a year, but I can say that I will forever count him as a friend, and hope our paths meet again.
Good luck, Greg.
– Jim Scripps, managing editor of the Tahoe Daily Tribune, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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