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Just another intersection

Take a deep breath, now, and give the Medford roundabout a chance

Scandal! Disaster! Crisis! No, it's not the war in Iraq ' it's the proposed roundabout at the intersection of Highland and Siskiyou roads on Medford's east side.

Thursday night, the City Council approved the new approach, saying it will be a better solution for Highland and Siskiyou than a traditional intersection with signals. But dread among some Medford residents continues to run deep.

Here's what we think: It's going to be a little confusing for a lot of people at first and a lot confusing for a few people who insist on making more of the change than necessary.

Roundabouts are essentially circular intersections with yield signs in place of stop signs or traffic lights. When drivers come to the intersection, they check for traffic or pedestrians and then enter the counterclockwise flow of traffic. When it's time to exit the intersection, off they go onto their chosen road. Medford's proposal includes sidewalks and islands for walkers and bicyclists.

Supporters ' and as far as we can see, they include most people who've used the intersections ' list many advantages: less idling, less pollution, less neighborhood noise because most cars don't stop and start, less likelihood of serious accidents.

When they don't work well, it's because traffic is too heavy and the roundabouts grow too large to be easily manueuverable. (If you've driven Britain's big cities with their packed multi-lane circles, you know what this is.)

— Too much traffic doesn't appear to be a threat at Highland and Siskiyou, where Medford is planning a single-lane roundabout that officials have said could grow to a two-lane structure if traffic someday requires it, a possibility. Traffic is increasing in east Medford on its own, and the planned construction of a new south freeway interchange at Highland and Barnett will boost it further ' 30-35 percent, according to state estimates.

More traffic is rarely great news, but it's reality at that intersection no matter what happens with the road. Once you accept that, the only question remaining is how best to handle it.

It's clear that's not to leave it as it is. Today the roads don't meet directly, a misalignment that forces drivers into awkward approaches and uncertainty about who goes first. An intersection with signals would improve the situation, but at a cost of about &

36;100,000 more than the roundabout.

Then there's the roundabout. Its only real drawback appears to be that some of the uninitiated fear it. That fear is being fanned by opponents, many of whom are residents of the neighborhood and who have opposed just about everything proposed for the road. They worry, understandably, about the traffic that will come their way because of the interchange.

No one can really say how much traffic will grow at Siskiyou and Highland, of course. But there's no reason to think the roundabout will make it worse than it would be; if anything, it might send fearful drivers elsewhere.

At least until they realize the boring truth of it all: A roundabout is just another intersection.