Editorial: Oak Harbor as roundabout city

The state Department of Transportation has proposed something different to get a handle on Oak Harbor’s growing traffic problem — use roundabouts instead of traditional stop signs and stop lights.

The DOT sees a possibility for as many as six roundabouts in the city. The circular fixtures in intersections don’t require motorist to stop; rather, they slowly round the roundabout and peel off on side roads or continue on to the other side, where they can proceed down the road.

Mayor Patty Cohen has spoken favorably of roundabouts on several occasions. She says it will help give Oak Harbor a different look and that people will adjust to the new way of driving. Roundabouts are indeed more attractive than traffic lights. The can be built to resemble mini-parks, with landscaping and statuary to beautify the thoroughfare. Drivers no doubt would eventually adjust, but the question is how long will it take and how much fender damage will be done before Whidbey Islanders become accustomed to roundabouts. And with so many tourists from other parts of the state, it’s possible the roundabout confusion will never end.

Nevertheless, the mayor is on the right track in her thinking as long as the state doesn’t get carried away with roundabout construction. Starting out with one or two in less confusing areas would make sense, rather that immediately building a roundabout in a major intersection, especially at Highway 20 and Swantown Road.

The DOT seems quite enthused about the roundabout possibilities. With up to 20,000 vehicles a day driving Highway 20 through Oak Harbor, something has to be done to keep traffic moving smoothly and safely. But roundabouts are controversial and the idea needs a good deal of public input before a decision is made.

Fortunately, the public can comment on the situation this week. On Thursday, April 21, DOT and city officials will be at the Oak Harbor Public Works Building, 1400 NE 16th Ave., from 4 to 7 p.m. to field comments from the public.

Speak up now, or don’t complain if in the future you find yourself driving in circles in Oak Harbor.

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