Election Section

Commentary: Will the Circles be Unbroken? By CAROL DENNEY

Friday June 03, 2005

Suddenly they’re everywhere. After weeks of heavy equipment churning up the asphalt and concrete pours between thunderstorms, my neighborhood is surrounded by “traffic-calming” round traffic barriers studded with curious signs. The symbol on the signs, w hich has a resemblance to elemental symbols from native cultures, is apparently an effort, occasionally successful, to keep drivers going in a uniform direction. 

The first truck I watched trying to navigate the circle couldn’t figure out whether he was s upposed to stop at some point, and nearly got rear-ended by the car behind him. Cars routinely stopped the first few days of the traffic circle’s birth, and skirted their remaining way around the concrete barrier in an almost majestic sweep through the ad jacent crosswalks before they got the trick down. Now they rip down the street like slalom skiers on an Olympic course. 

If you’re an adventurous driver, of which we have several in my neighborhood, you can sail a good foot over two striped street humps a nd leave rubber patches in concentric circles around the “traffic-calming” barrier, which will direct you straight into the bike lanes on Delaware Street that used to provide a small measure of safety, or the illusion of safety, when bicycling through tow n. 

I’m a bike commuter, and not the brave kind that rides without a helmet on the main roads and takes left turns from the traffic lane no matter who’s honking. I’m the kind that walks their bike through busy intersections, hunts down the empty side road s, and never uses the main traffic arteries. The bike lanes near my home were my bread and butter. Now they’re full of “calm” traffic, which curls around the concrete tubs of cedar chips like standing waves over a river rock. 

This wouldn’t bother me as m uch if I didn’t distinctly remember attending a neighborhood meeting where these traffic circles, obviously the favorite toys of the town traffic engineers, were hooted and laughed at by people who knew what they wanted was a stop sign and said so. We wer e an unfashionable group, to be sure. We didn’t care about the latest planning fashion. We didn’t want what we have now, an endless river of unstoppable cars skirting the backlogged traffic at San Pablo and University Avenue on its way to the freeway. 

We showed up, we spoke up, our city council representative managed to give us the impression that she listened to us, and then she let the traffic engineers build their favorite toys anyway. We’re showered now with the rhetoric that the cedar chip-filled obstacle course our neighborhood used to be will have enhanced property values. Maybe so. And if not, we certainly can host a rocking demolition derby. 


Carol Denney is a local activist and the author of the Pepper Spray Times.