A Primer On Traversing Chemung County Roundabouts

Roundabouts are a relatively new and controversial addition to the thoroughfares here in Chemung County. Still, enough time has passed that driving through them shouldn’t be such a crapshoot. And yet, since the first roundabout ( of sorts ) was established on Maple Avenue in Elmira, there still appears to be a lot of confusion among drivers on how to utilize them.

A Citizen’s Guide To Roundabouts published online ( go ahead, click the link ) explicitly reads: “Look to the left. Traffic in the roundabout has the right of way.”

From there you should enter the roundabout when there is a safe gap in traffic. Once you’re in the circle, you now have the right of way. Yay! Signal right when you intend to leave the roundabout, and be on your merry way.

For the sake of simplicity, we’ll leave out other factors, such as pedestrians and bicyclists. Anyone who drives through downtown Elmira already knows that’s an entirely different game of Dodgeball.

Please note the first line of each color’s instruction. ( Photo courtesy North Carolina DOT )

And yet as much as I travel throughout the area, including through several of our beloved roundabouts, I see exactly the opposite on an almost daily basis. This leads to middle fingers raised, horns honking, shouting, ( Not from me, though, honest. I’ve instead mastered the disgusted head shake combined with angry glare. It’s still kinda zen in it’s own way. ) and the occasional fender bender. I’ve personally had more near misses than I can count, more often than not on Maple Ave. when, despite being in the middle of the ridiculously small roundabout, turn signal on indicating my intended destination, oncoming traffic of all kinds still tries to charge on through causing me to slam on the brakes in the middle of the intersection.

I’ve got great reflexes folks, but I’m not getting any younger.

I wonder, why do these traffic control set ups, so common elsewhere in the world, cause such confusion here in Chemung County?

Perhaps some don’t know right from left. Here’s an easy trick: Hold your hands in front of you, with fingers spread open. See the one that makes the shape of an “L”? That’s your left. That’s the direction to look, and if you see a car on that side in the roundabout, yield to them.

Maybe it’s the word yield? After all, Merriam-Webster has almost a dozen definitions for the word; nouns, transitive verbs, intransitive verbs… I see where this could confuse some. FOr argument’s sake, let’s go with, “…to give way to or become succeeded by someone or something else.” Failure to do so could result in “…to give way under physical force (such as bending, stretching, or breaking).” In other words, a “fender bender.”

Or is it the term “right of way” that causes such disconcertion? Again, Merriam-Webster clarifies thusly: “A precedence in passing accorded to one vehicle over another by custom, decision, or statute.” In this case, the statute being NY Vehicle and Traffic Law.

So that’s it, a primer on how to use a roundabout here in Chemung County. So tomorrow’s commute should be a lot simpler, right?