RICHLAND — Gene Weisskopf has had any number of near misses in the two-lane roundabout that connects Highway 240, Columbia Park Trail and Steptoe Street.
The Richland man is trying to convince the Washington Department of Transportation that the traffic circle has flaws that are dangerous to drivers. But he said that so far his complaints have fallen on deaf ears.
So Weisskopf has started an online petition to get other drivers to send the message to the transportation department -- make changes before someone gets hurt.
Weisskopf's fundamental problem with the roundabout is that it's painted so that people driving on the inside lane have to cut across the outside lane to exit the circle.
Traditionally, roundabouts are designed so a vehicle can exit only from the outside lane, he said.
He believes the way the 240-Steptoe-Columbia Park Trail roundabout is designed confuses drivers and is a recipe for accidents.
"Thinking of people on the inside lane driving across the outside lane to exit is madness," Weisskopf said.
He especially is concerned about people on bicycles, who are moving more slowly than cars and might end up in the path of a car trying to make a quick exit onto 240 or Steptoe.
The website he created diagrams the flow of traffic on the roundabout and shows how conflicts can occur. It's at http://au2pb.com/steptoe/#Sign_the_Petition.
He also offered three suggestions for how the roundabout could work more smoothly -- make it one lane instead of two, install traffic signal lights or change the signs to make the roundabout less confusing and avoid conflicts.
But a Feb. 14 response letter from a region traffic engineer in the Yakima DOT office said the roundabout works just fine and that it is drivers who are at fault, not the signs or the design.
"We recognize that drivers will need a new skill-set to cope with the challenges of driving multilane roundabouts, and it will take time to educate the public," the letter said. "As you can imagine, the conflict you describe is difficult to explain in a sound bite or sign. And even after lengthy explanation, it is not fully understood by all drivers until they experience it."
The letter said getting drivers to understand the rules of a two-lane roundabout has been a significant challenge.
"Don't try to pass in the roundabout, don't get right next to the other vehicle, 'cutting them off' from a proper exit," it said.
Transportation officials said reducing the roundabout to one lane wouldn't accommodate the traffic load that is projected to use the intersection over the next 20 years.
"If we could have used a single-lane roundabout, we would have done so," the letter said.
Weisskopf said he understands the decisions state traffic engineers had to balance when deciding on the roundabout, but he also thinks the way it is designed runs counter to the driving rules that Tri-Citians are accustomed to following.
"They're saying everything is fine," he said. "What we're left with is this nebulous zone of chaos."
* Michelle Dupler: 509-582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org