15 May 2018

A Nantucket Traffic Circle

Who can forget the hilarious scene in National Lampoon’s “European Vacation” where the Griswold family merges into their first traffic circle in London. While navigating his way through the roundabout, dad Clark Griswold enthusiastically exclaims, “hey look kids, there’s Big Ben, there’s Parliament!” He then proceeds to find himself “trapped” in the inner lane of the circle unable to discern when and how to maneuver his European automobile to the exit. They spend an entire day (and into the night) driving around the circle repeatedly viewing Big Ben and Parliament.
Although it wasn’t an official “traffic circle,” my husband and I had a similar experience the first time we visited Boston and had the brilliant idea to rent a car and tour the city by auto. We somehow managed to make our way from Logan Airport to downtown Boston. Like the Griswold’s, we initially spotted some famous landmarks; the Public Gardens, the duck pond and that world-famous Cheers awning. We were like little kids trying to simultaneously follow the printed map (you know, that now archaic means of navigating) while enjoying the scenery. We were so proud of how “easily” we were able to find our way around a complicated new city and certain we were just minutes from our hotel when that darn Cheers awning appeared again. We would see it another dozen times before swallowing our pride and enlisting the guidance of a policeman mounted on a horse (that’s fodder for a whole other blog!). We made it out alive (barely) but have since learned that Boston is best enjoyed on foot.
The traffic circle is actually a brilliant invention and Nantucket is blessed with several of them. Dubbed the “roundabout” or “road circle” in some places, Nantucketer’s fondly refer to ours as rotary’s. The primary rotary is located mid-island featuring “jumping off” points to Sconset, the airport, downtown and mid-island shopping and dining venues with a charming newly renovated rotary in Sconset ensuring traffic moves in a singular direction around the village center.
As a year-round resident, it’s part of island charm to wave friends through the circle, honk at neighbors as we make the curve or join the line of backed up autos as we patiently wait for the ducks to cross the road just on the north side of the rotary. Summer time can bring a little frustration and a whole lot of humor as newcomers like the Griswold’s (and once upon a time the Dunlap’s by the way) try to figure out this circular way of traversing. There’s some gridlock, occasional hand gestures but almost never a honk. Even Clark Griswold would know honking is never a good idea on Nantucket!
The next time you find yourself at one of the island rotary’s, kindly wave to your fellow traveler to the left, stop for the nice family in the crosswalk and take it nice and slow as you make your way around the circle. If you find yourself gridlocked in the large mid-island round about, take note of the famous scenery. “There’s Lola Burger!” “There’s the Inky!” And if you’re lucky, “There’s the duck family!”
Merge Right.

Shellie Dunlap

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