Tuesday, August 23

Roundabout Tourists

Google Maps Shot Looking Down on the Ocean Shores Roundabout. North is at Top of the Photo

Previously, here, I wrote about the Ocean Shores Roundabout. I noted that the painted bike facilities, if followed, would put cyclists into crossing conflict with lawfully operating motorists and might even put cyclists in violation with the OS Municipal Code. Myself, I simply operate my bicycle pretty much as any locals would in their motor vehicles. Over time, anybody in Ocean Shores routinely learns the rules of the roundabout and knows where to watch in order to avoid conflicts. My speed through the roundabout is not much different than anybody else’s – there is a 15MPH posted speed limit and few motorists try to go faster.

On occasion, however, there is a problem with my strategy. Mostly, these problems pop up when there are LOTS of tourists in town. Tourists, you see, don’t understand the roundabout or its rules. When there are only a FEW tourists, they mostly just watch and see what everybody else does, and do the same. If they’re coming into town, they typically turn right in order to get to their hotel/motel. When there LOTS, however, they start trying to drive around town and I’ve experienced trouble from this, both when on my bike and when I motored through the roundabout.

The basic principle of the Ocean Shores Roundabout is that, entering the roundabout, you do so from the LEFT lane if you intend to turn left or make a U turn. That limits crossing conflict to the point of roundabout entry, when you are yielding to any traffic already in the roundabout. Three of the street exits from the roundabout are four-lane, median separated streets, and the fourth is a two-lane street. The last exit is where the problems mostly occur.

The problems occur in two ways. The first problem is that tourists entering from the north don’t realize that they are supposed to be in the left lane if they want to turn left. While in the roundabout, they suddenly make a lane shift to the left. As you can imagine, it can be a little disconcerting (whether on a bike or in a car), to suddenly see a motorist shifting into YOUR lane. To minimize this, on weekends with a lot of tourist traffic, I ride closer to the right side of the left lane, and faster than usual. I also watch the wheels of any nearby motor vehicles for the “oops, I’m in the wrong lane” reaction that roundabout novices often experience. That gives me time and space to move over if the adjacent motorist wheels start moving left. If the motorist indulges his/her “MUST PASS” impulse, I point at the exit, which seems to snap them out of their confusion. This is worst at the aforementioned exit because both roundabout exit lanes merge. At other exits, I can always stay in the left lane until the conflict evaporates. At worst, that’d involve a second trip around the roundabout.

The second problem is that many tourists don’t seem to understand that traffic already IN the roundabout has the right of way over traffic wanting to enter it. That is compounded for cyclists since we simply aren’t as obvious as an ambulance flashing its lights. In such cases, when I see vehicle wheels looking like they might sprint forward into the roundabout prematurely, I hold my right hand up, with the palm facing the prospective offender. It isn’t any sort of official or proper signal, but it seems to work and nobody has yet actually violated my right of way. If someone DID simply charge into the roundabout, I guess I’d have to decide whether to change lanes, brake, or accelerate. Sometimes cycling in traffic DOES benefit from some extra speed, though this is rather the exception than the rule.

Actually, roundabouts, even though they aren’t perfect, are fun and safe for cyclists that understand how to operate in accord with general traffic principles. Nobody’s going too fast and you’ve got a lot more lane room about you when you’re on a bike. Truck drivers are probably not so fond of the Ocean Shores Roundabout.

Southbound Tourists Apparently Don't Notice this Sign SAYING "Left Lane if You Want to Turn Left"

1 comment:

Justine Valinotti said...

As your post points out, the most difficult aspects of cycling in a roundabout are knowing where you want to go and the traffic flow (one way? two way? how many lanes?) of the streets that feed into it. You are more likely to know both if you're familiar with the area.

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