The Arizona Department of Transportation has shifted into overdrive to prepare east Mesa residents for a whole new method of getting on or off a freeway - the roundabout.
Pairs of roundabouts have been in operation for a year on McKellips and Brown roads over the nearly finished new section of Loop 202. But a lot of residents are nervous about how to safely use these intersections-in-a-circle that lack any traffic lights or stop signs, once freeway traffic is added to the mix in mid-July.
Neighbor Mary Presley keeps having visions of madcap motorists ignoring traffic signs and racing into roundabouts intended for 20 mph or less.
"I've seen people going too fast (as they enter the roundabout)," Presley told me Tuesday during an ADOT educational open house at Red Mountain High School. "They can't slow down soon enough and keep control to stay in their lane. We're all going to have to get used to it: be patient; take their turn. And Arizona drivers don't like to take their turn."
The truth is the modern roundabout is designed to overcome, or at least minimize, many of the bad decisions that Arizona drivers can make. Studies from Europe, Australia and the eastern U.S. support this, as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says roundabouts reduce injury accidents by an average of 75 percent and the total number of crashes by 40 percent.
But roundabouts just look strange around here and most Arizona drivers have little experience with them. So about 150 people showed up at last week's educational meeting to pepper ADOT officials with questions.
ADOT certainly has ramped up to tackle the roundabout knowledge gap. A dozen communication experts were armed with giant poster boards and Web sites and toy vehicles moving around model roundabouts on table-top maps. There was also an 8-minute instructional video produced by ADOT that includes a startling number of staged accidents to emphasize the dangers of traditional intersections. Every person at the meeting received a free copy of the DVD to take home and watch over and over again.
Some people think it's time for us to get past our angst about this huge change in our driving routines and to prove we are as smart as the Brits and Aussies.
"I'm tired of hearing people complain when the statistics say roundabouts are safer, faster and better - but only if you learn how to use it," said Mesa resident Dick Krouse.
We may not have much choice. One of the ADOT's poster boards showed how Arizona has seven roundabout locations now, but they will more than quadruple in the near future. That's a lot of driving around in circles.
Le Templar is senior opinion writer for the Tribune. He can be reached at (480) 898-6474 or firstname.lastname@example.org.