You’re new here. You instantly fell in love with the charm and beauty of the Lowcountry. But now that you’ve been here for a bit, those same quirks that drew you in are now throwing you for a loop.
I get it. I was a newbie here once, when I moved here in 2004. And now, after moving away in 2014 and moving back in 2020, I’m an old newbie, part of an ever-growing cliché known as The Boomerang Bunch.
It’s why we’ve started this new series, the Newbies Guide, to give you a leg up and a roadmap as you build a new life in our mossy-oak nirvana.
What better way to start that roadmap than to literally start with a road, or a tricky part of one to maneuver.
I have had an ongoing conversation with readers and residents in my 15 years of covering Bluffton, and the question I get asked the most is, “What’s the deal with the roundabout?”
Depending on where you’re from, it might look like a traffic circle or a rotary to you. The roundabout at the intersection of the Bluffton Parkway and the Bluffton Road portion of S.C. 46 was built in 2010. While other intersections in the new Parkway project that began in 2005 have traffic lights, the state Department of Transportation decided on a roundabout for this busy crossroads.
It’s all about traffic flow. There’s already a light at Red Cedar Road and another at Burnt Church Road. Too many traffic lights would cause a stop-and-start nightmare — at least that was the thinking right after Y2K. (Drive the Parkway from Burnt Church to Simmonsville at evening rush hour these days and you’ll have plenty of stops and starts and backups at the roundabout).
The roundabout is meant to keep a steady flow of traffic going with yields instead of lights, and intended to cut down on the likelihood of deadly accidents by eliminating the potential for 90-degree, T-bone collisions.
Study after study shows roundabouts as an effective deterrent and they are now the du jour trend nationwide. So why do we have so much trouble figuring out how to get through this bugger?
I don’t mean to rub salt in the wound, but a pre-construction DOT public forum vote was held at Bluffton High asking whether folks wanted a circle or a light. We had a say, and the DOT said we chose the roundabout. This is pre-“fake news” and before election audits became sexy, so none of us questioned the results.
Most Blufftonians agree that the biggest issue with the roundabout is driver error. While some would like to peg this just to visitors, at least 25 lifelong residents I spoke to ahead of writing this said they’ve been caught in an endless circle driving like the Griswolds in “European Vacation.”
“Hey, look kids, Big Ben!” Maybe if we put a clock tower in the middle of the circle, it would at least make the endless looping seem a bit more bearable.
A former Bluffton resident, Erik Anderson, died in a plane crash in 2019. Two years before the tragic accident, he made a video titled “Bluffton Traffic Circle For Dummies.” The original posting had more than 100,000 views at one time. Anderson parked a drone over the roundabout and captured two near accidents that helped him perfectly illustrate the right and wrong way to traverse the asphalt beast.
The rules, on the surface, seem simple. Yield to cars already in the roundabout. When you enter the circle in the right lane, you can only make an immediate right or proceed to go straight through the circle while staying in the right lane. No left lane switches allowed.
If you enter in the left lane, you have three choices: go straight through the circle, make an exit three-quarters through the circle – staying in your lane, or do a U-turn, heading back in the other direction. For all three options, stay in your lane.
The simple truth is that drivers are either too impatient to follow the rules or freeze up when faced with this new motorist twist. And even if you don’t fret, it is a delicate balance of defensive driving without being too defensive.
One of the most masterful defensive drivers I know, Leah McCarthy, was in an accident with her kids in her minivan in 2013. She started an online petition to help force changes to the alignment, even had County Council calling on the DOT for help. Alas, the lobbying went nowhere.
The Sea Pines Circle on Hilton Head Island, built before our roundabout, has one lane in the middle, with concrete dividers at separate right-turn lanes every 90 degrees – so if you’re turning right, you never have to enter the circle. Why didn’t we do that?
The “experts” tell me there wasn’t enough space. Since it was a state road and technically outside town limits, Bluffton officials had less control over our first roundabout.
Our newest roundabout, at the S.C. 46 (May River Road) and S.C. 170 intersection, has two lanes and separate right-turn lanes. There was more of a blank canvas out that way – more land without existing construction to muck up the process.
They added behemoth overhead signage off of the Parkway entrances to the circle to give drivers more of a users’ manual than simply looking at the painted directions on the road.
That’s about all you can expect, folks. It’s too expensive to tear up the roundabout and put in traffic lights. And frankly, the actuaries are right. The circle saves lives and keeps traffic flowing without constantly having to adjust light patterns to account for changing traffic volume.
Watch Anderson’s video, a fitting tribute to a fallen resident that took the time to try to help us figure out this vehicular abomination. To find it online, search Bluffton Traffic Circle for Dummies.
And be thankful you don’t live in Swindon, England. They have a ring junction there, the Magic Roundabout, with five mini-roundabouts that feed into a mega-roundabout, a creation that Swindon locals feel is proof that Satan is a DOT worker.
Have a topic that you think needs to be addressed in our Newbies Guide? Email Tim Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org.