Q: I’m new to Tacoma, but not new to driving. Although I’m familiar with traffic circles (roundabouts) in the U.S. and abroad, I am somewhat confused how to handle right-of-way at intersections such as North 28th Street and North Cedar Street, North 27th Street and North Washington Street and many more.
Should I treat these intersections as traffic circles and therefore yield to the left, or are they considered “uncontrolled intersections” with a circular island in the middle, in which case I should yield to the right? — Tom N., Tacoma
A: Before we get started answering your question, let us first say, “Welcome to T-town,” Tom! As someone else once said, you’ll like it here.
Now, regarding those pesky intersections throughout the city with the half-pint concrete circles in the middle of them …
Never miss a local story.
They are, in the words of Tacoma police spokeswoman Loretta Cool, “uncontrolled intersections,” not true roundabouts, and therefore a driver should yield to the right, as prescribed in RCW 46.61.180.
In our never-ending quest for elaboration, we queried Ms. Cool for a more thorough response. Well, actually, we might have whined something along the lines of: “Why is everything so confusing?”
To which she replied, “It is not confusing. You are overthinking it.”
A roundabout, Cool went on, is designed with marked lanes directing travel around the center island with signs posted at the exits.
At the other types of intersections mentioned by Tom, there are no signs or lane markers or anything else, she said. The circle in the middle is meant to “calm” traffic, i.e. slow it down. The goal there, Cool said, “is to eliminate multicar accidents.”
Now, Tom didn’t mention this, probably because he’s navigated roundabouts around the globe, but there is a trick to driving through one appropriately.
In fact, the state Department of Transportation has an entire web page dedicated to the practice, which includes a “five-part video available online.”
And to think it took only three videos to tell J.R.R. Tolkein’s “Lord of the Rings” saga. But we digress.
For a single-lane roundabout, the Transportation Department suggests drivers:
▪ Look for a yellow “roundabout ahead” sign with an advisory speed limit posted.
▪ Watch for pedestrians in the crosswalk.
▪ “Continue toward the roundabout and look to your left as you near the yield sign and dashed yield line at the entrance to the roundabout. Yield to traffic already in the roundabout.”
▪ When there’s an opening, drive on.
▪ Look again for pedestrians before you exit, use your turn signal and stay in your lane.
For multilane roundabouts, the best advice we can give is to follow the directional signs, pick your lane early and yield to the left.
“Remember, in a multilane roundabout, you must yield to both lanes of traffic,” the Transportation Department states with the emphatic use of bold type.
Got that, Tom? Good. I hope the other guy or gal does, too.