Traffic circle continues to confuse some drivers

Richard Cardozo on Lincoln Avenue in Mineola, where Richard Cardozo on Lincoln Avenue in Mineola, where a dead end sign is positioned about 100 feet from the corner. The village has begun installing signs on corners to notify drivers when streets have no outlet. May 7, 2014 Photo Credit: Judy Cartwright

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Judy Cartwright Judy Cartwright

Judy Cartwright writes the Community Watchdog column ...

I venture into the traffic circle in Patchogue at Holbrook Road and Waverly Avenue nearly every day. Several times per week, this morning included, I am nearly sideswiped by cars that fail to yield to my vehicle though I'm already in the traffic circle. I know that the proper signs are yield signs, but I was wondering why they can't put stop signs at each entrance to ensure that motorists know they must yield to the drivers already in the traffic circle.

-- Robert Wenner, Patchogue

This roundabout continues to vex many of us in part because of the scene Wenner describes: You never know which cars are going to play by the rules.

And for anyone who doesn't remember that chapter from driver's ed, the key rule is this: Entering drivers must yield the right of way to traffic already in the circle.

If only.

This particular roundabout, just west of downtown Patchogue, arrived about four years ago. Our experience bears out Wenner's observations: That hasn't been enough time for some drivers to figure it out.

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Suffolk County Police Insp. Aristides Mojica, commander of the Fifth Precinct, drives through the circle several times a day and says he's seen improvement. "I could see early on that people didn't get it," he said. "It's definitely gotten better" though short of 100 percent.

But don't expect stop signs to replace the yield signs. The Federal Highway Administration, which sets the rules for traffic signs and signals, requires yield signs at roundabout entrances.

The Patchogue roundabout is one of a handful that have arrived on Long Island in recent years. The circular design is actually intended to improve safety: Compared with an intersection, a roundabout has fewer potential collision spots, in part because left turns are eliminated. The National Highway Safety Administration has found that accidents are "generally down at locations once intersections are replaced by roundabouts." And when crashes do occur, they are expected to be less severe because traffic moves at lower speeds than at an intersection.

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Only one crash with an injury has been reported in the four years the Patchogue roundabout has been in use. But the total number of crashes at or near the roundabout has gone up, not down: 22 since April 2010, compared with 12 in the previous four years.

We don't have enough detail about those accidents to know if ignorance of the rules played a role. Suffolk County police say several factors may explain the numbers, among them Patchogue's growing popularity.

"Since Patchogue is thriving, just the mere volume is bringing more cars into the village, and that adds up to more accidents in the area," Mojica said. He cited the opening in recent years of a new YMCA, a performing arts center, clubs and restaurants, plus events designed to bring people downtown.

It's worth noting that four of the 22 accidents involved charges that drivers were intoxicated. Mojica pointed out that taxis are routinely available, especially near bars and restaurants.

And they have plenty of roundabout experience. Surely they've mastered the rules by now.

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Richard Cardozo found out too late that the side street he was entering was a dead end road.

He didn't see a dead end or no outlet sign until he had driven down the block. The sign was "three telephone poles from the corner," he said, or about 100 feet.

Cardozo, who lives in East Meadow, was driving on Willis Avenue in Mineola when he made the left turn onto Lincoln Avenue "and had to make a U turn when I got to the dead end sign," he said.

Why, he wanted to know, hadn't a sign been placed close to the corner to give drivers a heads up that there's no way out?

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First, there's good news: A new sign has been posted at the corner, facing drivers on Willis Avenue. It features the words "DEAD END" and a directional arrow that indicates the section of Lincoln east of Willis Avenue has no outlet.

The sign was one of several already in the works when we called Village Hall. They're being installed under a new Federal Highway Administration requirement, Village Clerk Joseph Scalero said, and are being placed at entrances to every dead end street in the village.

As for the sign that's three telephone poles from the corner: That location actually met standards set by the federal agency, Scalero said, which call for a dead end sign to be "as near as practical to the entry point" of a road but don't specify a distance.

The one in question wasn't placed closer to the corner because the village wants to prevent drivers from attempting U turns just after they enter Lincoln Avenue, Scalero said, because such a maneuver would pose a potential traffic hazard.

That sign is gone now, but a dead end sign remains at the end of the street. If drivers miss the new sign on the corner, plenty of parking lot driveways on Lincoln are available for turnarounds.

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