From Berated to Beloved

April 05, 1994

We won't pretend we knew ahead of time that the roundabout in Lisbon was destined to be the toast of that small western Howard County town. Frankly, that wouldn't have been a smart bet, because local residents avidly opposed the State Highway Administration's plans to turn the traditional four-way crossing at Routes 144 and 94 into Maryland's first modern traffic circle.

But wonder of wonders: The roundabout was installed a year ago, the once-dangerous intersection became virtually accident-free and erstwhile opponents found it easier to negotiate than they had feared. Instead of cursing the circle, they sing its praises. One Lisbon resident has even begun marketing baseball caps ($8 a pop) and shirts ($12) that trumpet the town as "Home of Maryland's First Round-About."

No, we won't say we foresaw the roundabout's success. Yet anyone with a long memory of controversial civic projects might have felt somewhat safe predicting the happy ending for Lisbon's traffic circle. For instance, when the Rouse Co. hatched a plan to make a people-magnet out of Baltimore's rat-infested Inner Harbor, critics hooted at the improbability of the idea. Fourteen years later, Harborplace remains one of the region's top tourist draws, having opened the way for the National Aquarium, the Pier 6 Pavilion and the Gallery. Another downtown development denigrated in its planning stages as a waste of public money: Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Its bedazzling mixture of old and new quickly earned it status as the current standard for baseball stadiums.

Other examples? The Chesapeake Bay Bridge, which is at least as important to Ocean City's economy as skee ball. Towson Commons, the retail-dining-movie complex fought bitterly by community groups but now credited with bringing needed nightlife to the Baltimore County seat. Light rail, spurned at first by communities (Hunt Valley and Glen Burnie, to name two) that later put themselves on the list for future stops.

Certainly the public and private sectors have created their share of flops. But as in the case of the Lisbon roundabout, government and business officials deserve credit for having the vision and the persistence to create important civic institutions, often for a citizenry whose initial enthusiasm for them is less than overwhelming.

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