America would be a much better place if all of our traffic lights were replaced by roundabouts. I know this is a controversial viewpoint, especially in Florida, but hear me out. In a country that was built on freedom – freedom of religion, freedom to govern ourselves, freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, etc. – why is it that we have surrendered said freedoms at every street corner by allowing programmed lights to dictate our progress? In a country that was designed to allow each individual to make their own way, to live with a frontier mentality and an explorer’s heart, why is it that we are satisfied to sit like mindless drones at every intersection waiting for something to tell us when it is okay to move forward? We have allowed traffic lights to lull us into a sense of complacency and we have grown accustomed, dare I say content, with not thinking for ourselves and merely following the pack.
Traffic lights eliminate the need to think and their very presence ignores the basic human need for connection and community. Traffic lights create a culture of windows up, radio on, blue tooth connected with no need or desire to recognize the world and the people who are directly around us. With a traffic light all one needs to do is to stop and start whenever they are told, like some sort of life-sized puppet on a string. No thinking is required. No interaction or communication with others is necessary. Some bemoan the perception that technology is the downfall of meaningful, real human interaction and community. But I propose that it is and has always been the traffic light that has eroded our basic community and relational foundation as a country.
The answer? Slowly but surely convert all intersections to roundabouts. A roundabout, unlike its counterpart the traffic light, forces drivers to be present in the moment, in constant communication with those around them and naturally gives every driver a 360 degree perspective on the world. Roundabouts create community because drivers must keep their eyes open and minds alert. Turn signals must be used and eye contact is a requirement. Nothing connects people with each other in a more profound way then two drivers who are looking to enter a roundabout at the same time! The center islands of roundabouts create natural spaces for art and nature. With the eyes of all the drivers up and alert a provocative piece of art or a statue highlighting something from the local history cannot go unnoticed. Unlike so many of our public artwork and history that is rotting on the vein, lost in parks that nobody frequents.
Roundabouts would also eliminate so many societal problems that traffic lights perpetuate. First, no more need to worry about pan-handlers. Ask any professional pan-handler and they will choose a traffic light intersection over a roundabout intersection any day of the week. Second, wear and tear on vehicles will decrease. Parts like tires will last longer with no need to skid to a stop when the light goes from yellow to red or peel out when it turns green. Third, gas mileage will increase because there will be no need to put “City” and “Highway” mileage rates on vehicles because cities will cease being the home of perpetual stopping and starting. Finally, there will be no need for electricity on every street corner. This will not only save electricity, it will prevent problems when the electricity goes out. Nothing causes more confusion for American drivers then when traffic lights are out. It is as if nobody has ever successfully navigated an intersection before. Why is this the case? Because nobody in America has had to successfully navigate a major intersection without a traffic light!
Now, am I not so naive to think that merely changing all traffic light intersections into roundabouts will fix all of our societal problems. But, I do believe that it would go a long way in lifting our eyes from our perpetual navel gazing and will force us to see each other and interact with each other and the world around us in a much more profound way. That, in itself, would be a major achievement for our great country.