Coming around to roundabouts

August 09, 1993

When the State Highway Administration announced last fall that it would build Maryland's first modern roundabout at the intersection of Routes 144 and 94 in Lisbon, many residents of the west Howard County community objected.

"The Lisbon Beltway," one local humorist derisively dubbed the proposed 110-foot-wide traffic circle. Another resident declared, "If they put it in, I'm taking helicopter lessons and flying to work."

Less than a year later -- and four months after the roundabout opened -- few Lisbonites are complaining about the one-way, single-lane circle that works much like a revolving door; vehicles approaching the circle from either of the four directions enter only after an opening has emerged. The roundabout's circular layout and low speed limit keep accidents to a minimum. Accidents also are expected to be less violent than the perpendicular collisions common at large intersections.

To date, only one minor side-swiping has occurred in the circle. And now the residents like it so much that they might take up arms if the state decides to change the roundabout back into a standard intersection with lights and stop signs.

Even defenders of the former configuration at Routes 144 and 94 would have to concede that it used to be a dangerous crossing. State officials say it was one of the worst in the state: 40 accidents and 49 people injured in a recent five-year period.

The danger factor, as well as the relatively low volume of traffic, convinced the state to pick the Lisbon intersection for the roundabout experiment. According to SHA officials, a roundabout is safer and more cost-efficient than a traffic signal, as borne out by studies in foreign countries.

It didn't take long for Lisbonites to be sold on the concept. The circle was only six weeks old when a local citizens' committee voted overwhelmingly to make the roundabout permanent. The state will do so by the end of the summer, finishing work on the center island and installing a raised lane that only trucks will be able to use but at reduced speeds.

State officials hope to install several more roundabouts in Maryland this year, including one in Columbia, two in Western Maryland and another on the Eastern Shore. The Howard County government plans to build two others in Columbia.

Finding potential sites is easy, officials say. The roadblocks will pop up when local folks won't accept the idea. Why not simply refer them to all those Lisbonites who came around to liking roundabouts?

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