Human Element Always Matters

I love the roundabouts on Kauai. I like to imagine skillfully zipping around the single-lane, one-way traffic circles like a winning driver taking the final lap around the Indianapolis 500 speedway. Whee!

Sorry, I lost myself there for a second. I don’t even like driving fast.

Aside from the imaginative ride, these roundabouts are good stuff — one of the greatest traffic-reducing efforts to finally hit this island in recent history. Of course, the ones on Kauai are neither like the complicated Magic Roundabout in Swindon, England, nor the famous old traffic circle around the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, but it’s the progressive concept behind them that counts.

Arguably, roundabouts are designed to enable natural human intelligence. Drivers spontaneously act on and respond to traffic situations simply by following an accepted set of basic rules, ultimately improving traffic flow, reducing frustration, time and gas, and subsequently maybe even reducing air pollution.

With such a high regard for these circuitous systems, you can imagine how one day recently, I was shocked when one didn’t quite work as expected.

Roundabouts such as this one in Kapaa are traffic marvels — usually Jane Esaki photo

Roundabouts such as this one in Kapaa are traffic marvels — usually Jane Esaki photo

Just as Kapaa and Kauai High’s graduation ceremonies were in full swing, the Kapaa roundabout came to a complete halt. That’s right, absolutely no car could get in or out of the circle.

I was caught by surprise, like a drunk motorist coming up a one-way DUI checkpoint just past a bend. Not that a teetotaler like I knows how that feels, but again, I can imagine.

It’s one thing to be stuck in highway traffic because of an accident or bottleneck—you know it will be slow-going but you know you will get through. However, it’s a whole different sensation to be stuck in a roundabout where each entrance is plugged with a line of cars waiting to get in AND no one is exiting the circle. Trapped is the feeling.

Amidst this sudden standstill, an eerie quietness pervaded. Then, like the sound of a pin dropping in the eye of a hurricane, a frustrated bearded man two cars in back of me blurted out to no one in particular, “This is soooo stooopid.”

He was right. Why weren’t we moving? Wasn’t anyone able to take ANY exit to get out of the trap? Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t, being two cars away from the next exit and having no squeeze-through space. I also couldn’t reverse or turn onto the open pavement inside the circle to allow a car to back up or move forward to access an exit.

All I could do was inch up even closer to the car in front and hope everyone would do the same, so maybe someone could make it out.

But that just wasn’t happening.

The same outspoken man behind me read my thoughts again. This time in a forgiving G-rated tone, he said, “If everyone inches up a little closer, I’ll be able to get out of here and you’ll all have one less car in here.”

Soon after his announcement, whether it was because of it or not, one car must’ve either managed to exit or sacrificed its position by taking the exit at which it was, because the roundabout was set in motion again.

Things don’t always flow as expected, like on this rare occasion. But there’s always that common-sense citizen cop somewhere in the flesh or in our inventive minds that emerges. Because of that, this awesome roundabout did ultimately function as intended.

It did enable our inherent human intelligence.