I start most days thinking that the engineers behind the C Street/O’Malley roundabout deserve a beating. Maybe two.
And before all the pro-roundabout people spout off, yeah, I’ve heard how wonderful they are in Europe, blah, blah, blah. They work great—for cars. But every morning I ride through this thing, and every morning I mutter evil things under my breath as I sigh with relief after crossing the eastbound lane.
I’ve talked to several road designers in recent years, and they’ve all said they strive to accommodate non-motorized transportation. But I’ve never met one who was a bike commuter, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never met one who wasn’t full of shit when talking to bicyclists. They design these things to move cars and trucks efficiently, and that’s all.
There are two ways to pass through a roundabout on a bike. First, you can merge with cars and pass through on the street. Not a bad option if you can sustain the speed. On my 36x16 singlespeed commuter, it seems marginally safer to use the second option (intended by the traffic engineers), which is to ride on the adjacent sidewalk and cross roads like a pedestrian—especially since this roundabout gets a lot of large trucks bouncing across the truck apron and spilling rocks.
Of course, traffic engineers—when they weren’t in the bathroom jerking off to Car and Driver magazine—decided roundabouts should route cyclists and pedestrians away from intersections, virtually blinding us to all approaching cars because they’re behind us as we set up to make a hard left across traffic after we’ve lost all momentum. Northbound riders crossing O’Malley have it worse, because a grove of trees makes it extra difficult to look over your right shoulder and see motorists dropping downhill on C Street (which was on your left until two seconds ago) and zooming into the chute that will carry them east—the same chute you have to cross.
Focus one second too long on those cars turning east at high speed, and you can miss other eastbound vehicles coming all the way through the roundabout from other angles. It’s a good way to get mashed into the grill of a sedan, as I almost did (again) this morning. I consider it extremely dangerous, and I practice the crossing every day.
This October, a new Target store is opening several hundred yards north of this intersection. Other big development along C Street is coming in the next few years. Motor vehicle traffic will be increasing. More kids from South Anchorage will start riding to the new stores for game cartridges, fast food, and whatever else comes along.
I’ll make my prediction now: Sometime in the next few years, a bicyclist is going to be maimed or killed while riding north along C Street and trying to cross the eastbound lane of O’Malley Road.
I don’t care how many traffic engineers tell me that roundabouts are safer for cyclists. This one is a disaster waiting to happen.