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EDITORIAL: Still dangerous

Just three days after traffic lights returned to the intersection, Rawlins Cross saw its first collision. Keith Gosse/The Telegram
The scene at a recent Rawlins Cross accident since the lights were reactivated. Telegram file photo

It looks a lot like trial and error.

And error’s winning right now.

You would not have to be a fortune teller to have suggested that, when the City of St. John’s dismantled the roundabout at Rawlins Cross, there would be a spike in accidents in the area.

And there have been.

It’s just another chapter in the long and fractious life of a dangerous intersection.

The intersection was changed to a peculiar version of a roundabout in August 2018, and accident monitoring at the site showed a significant decline in both the number of accidents and their severity.

Score one for roundabouts.

Problem is, pedestrians argued that the new format made them feel decidedly less safe when it came to having to cross any of the streets involved: in the absence of red lights requiring traffic to stop, pedestrians were left with the option of hoping that crosswalks would be respected.

Are roundabouts more effective?

From the point of view of traffic flow, certainly.

For pedestrians, the efficacy is spelled out a little more pragmatically: one thing that traffic analysts point out is that pedestrians hit by vehicles on roundabouts are more likely to survive and tend to have less severe injuries, because the cars that hit them are going at slower speeds. That’s cold comfort for anyone hit, though.

Anyone spending a little time watching near misses at the decommissioned roundabout would realize one thing quite quickly: people, drivers included, are creatures of habit, and those drivers who had gotten used to the right-of-way flow of the roundabout seem to be slow to adapt to the fact that they have lost the right of way they used to enjoy. In other words, there’s been plenty of screeching tires as drivers blow through new yield signs and reactivated lights, apparently unaware that the changes have taken place.

That being said, intersections with traffic lights and pedestrian “Walk” and “Don’t Walk” signs require vehicles to come to a stop at a red light and allow pedestrians to cross. In this province, crosswalks — even ones with button-activated flashing lights — are often treated by drivers as a suggestion they should stop, rather than a requirement.

Safety requires more than just driver courtesy.

But back to the peculiar intersections of Rawlins Cross. It was a particularly strange roundabout, one with limited sightlines for drivers and a traffic flow that had drivers watching other cars, rather than people standing on corners waiting to cross.

And that lack of attention matters, especially if you’re a person involved in a collision with a big box of plastic and metal.

Anyone spending a little time watching near misses at the decommissioned roundabout would realize one thing quite quickly: people, drivers included, are creatures of habit, and those drivers who had gotten used to the right-of-way flow of the roundabout seem to be slow to adapt to the fact that they have lost the right of way they used to enjoy.

In other words, there’s been plenty of screeching tires as drivers blow through new yield signs and reactivated lights, apparently unaware that the changes have taken place.

Will it settle down?

Eventually.

Is it the best choice? Well, the best choice would be slower speeds and drivers paying more attention.

But the city can’t just create that situation.

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