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It's a Roundabout Not a Rotary, Stupid 

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If you care to thumb through this week's Seven Days, you'll find a little story about the hipsterfication of Winooski. Well, not exactly. It's more about how the tiny city is leveraging the talents of its newest residents — young creatives — to make itself rad. (Read: hipsterfication) Leading the charge is Jessica Bridge, Realtor, tattoo studio owner, lady about town and president of the WInooski Community Partnership, the downtown business group charged with upping the city's awesome quotient.

When I talked with Bridge for the story, we spent a lot of time gabbing about the 10-ton elephant in the middle of the street — the rotary. Actually, it's technically not a rotary; it's a roundabout, or so says the city manager. But who can trust those people? Can you call it a traffic circle? What about a thoroughfare oval? A vehicular infield?

Anyway, here's what Bridge had to say about the roundabout: Get over it. Literally, that's what she said. I should put that in quotes so you know I didn't make it up. Since the roundabout was constructed six years ago as a way to make traffic flow more efficiently, people have used it as an excuse for why people don't come to Winooski and why businesses don't set up shop there. But, argued Bridge, the roundabout is not the cause of the city's issues. So get over it.

The roundabout serves a function. It wasn't meant to be anything but a traffic calming device. That it was even landscaped in the center is a bonus, regardless of whether or not the city's residents take advantage of the 14 benches scattered inside the roundabout. As Bridge said, it's not going to be a skatepark or an amphitheatre or an ice skating rink, so get over it. Though it might be a sculpture park, if the WCP gets its way.

Despite its being such a huge part of downtown 'Noosk's built landscape, I've hardly given a thought to the roundabout. I used to live in the UK, which I'm pretty sure invented the roundabout in some quaint thatch-roof cottage in the Cotswolds, so I'm pretty familiar with how to navigate them. Winooski's has never seemed all that exceptional or problematic. But perhaps that's because I don't live there and don't tend to think about things that do not immediately or directly affect me. Like Kim Kardashian's ass. Or third world debt.

But, since I'm a bangin'-ass journalist and all about "participant observation," I figured I needed to actually witness the impacts the roundabout has on the city. And what better way to do that than by hanging out inside the roundabout?

I figured I would stay there for an hour — it was a beautiful day, and I could work on my tan while getting paid. (Really, let's not kid ourselves — I'd have to camp out there for three years to get any color). I sat on one of the benches, applied some SPF 3000 and began observing.

And really, there was nothing to see. At least not inside the roundabout.

Every so often, a person would walk past me, crossing from one side of the roundabout to the other. None of them tarried in the space, despite the soothing water feature and swaths of green grass just begging to be sat upon. By my count, 15 people walked through the roundabout in an hour, en route to somewhere else. There were a couple of college-aged folks shuffling to Spinner Place, a pair of kids on scooters and a father/daughter combo carrying fishing poles and a tackle box. Cute.

After about 15 minutes of observing, I was cooking on that bench and decided to move to some shade. I parked it under one of the roundabout's many trees and resumed my "reporting." I will tell you that watching traffic is an acquired taste, like okra or men with hairy backs. It's generally pretty boring. Cars sped around the roundabout's curves, one after another, in an endless stream of metal and rubber. I tried counting the vehicles, but my efforts were futile. Plus, counting traffic is stupid. Unless you're Rain Man.

But, while I was trying to count, I witnessed a highly entertaining exchange between the respective drivers of a Ford F-150 and a Honda Civic, which I will recount for you below.

In this production of "Roundabout Road Rage," the role of Maniac will be played by the late Macho Man Randy Savage, while snapping into a Slim Jim. The role of Pencil Neck will be played by that guy who played Lewis in Revenge of the Nerds.

Maniac driving the F-150 (to the Honda Civic): "Stay in your fucking lane!"

Pencil Neck operating the Honda Civic: "Fuck off!" 

And scene.

Wow. High drama at the roundabout. Sadly, that was about as interesting as it got. Flags fluttered, seagulls turned, the occasional plane roared overhead. But no more road rage. Soon I was lulled to sleep by the swaying of the tree branches above me. I woke up to three high school kids staring at me like I had a nipple for a nose, which I do, but that's a story for another day.

What I learned about the Winooski roundabout during my reporting was this: Despite the cacophony of the traffic sounds and the somewhat intimidating crossing situation, the roundabout is a pleasant place to be. And, love it or hate it, it's going to be there for some time to come. So get over it.     

Photo via Winooski Falls.

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Lauren Ober

Lauren Ober

Lauren Ober was a Seven Days staff writer from 2009-2011.

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