The new roundabout off Exit 17 might be disconcerting to some first-time road users, as it’s a unique Concord design, but after four months of winter use, driver confusion appears to be limited.
“The public feedback I’ve received on the Hoit Road/Whitney Road project has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Matt Walsh, acting deputy city manager.
There’s a reason for that, says a guy who would know: “If you just follow the signs and arrows, it’s one of the best double roundabouts I’ve ever seen,” said Jack Wedemeyer, owner of Jack’s Driving School. The school has a branch in the Concord Crossing development, which means that instructors have to go through the two new roundabouts every time they leave.
“At some two-lane roundabouts, you have to make a lane change at the roundabout to exit, but not at this one,” he said.
Concord has replaced nearly a dozen traffic signal intersections with roundabouts of various sizes in the past decade, making it part of a national trend. In general, such roundabouts allow traffic to flow more easily, since no one has to wait for the light to change, and they have far fewer dangerous crashes, since collisions occur at an angle instead of T-shaped or head-on.
The large roundabout on Whitney Road is unique in the city in that it has two lanes on the east side, heading towards exit 17 on I-93, but only one lane on the west side. Most of Concord’s roundabouts are single lane.
The east side of the new roundabout includes the turnoff to Hoit Road towards the new Merchant’s Way shopping center and carries much more traffic than the west side, which only has a turnoff in two small subdivisions.
The second lane requires an additional decision from drivers.
“You have to get used to it, read the signs. That’s the key: Read. Him. Signs,” Wedemeyer said. And plan ahead. “You have to know where you are going before you go in.”
Roundabouts of various types date back to 1903, when Columbus Circle opened in New York City. Some roundabouts, of a different design than now common, were built in New Hampshire from the 1940s through the 1960s.
Modern roundabouts are not the large, high-speed roundabouts of decades past. These tend to be smaller, slowing drivers down, and often have flat islands in the middle to keep tractor-trailers from getting stuck. And they always require incoming traffic to yield.
Social media has seen some complaints from drivers confused by the Whitney Road roundabout, as well as the fact that Hoit Road has a second, smaller roundabout a few hundred yards away. That may reflect the fact that it was opened to traffic before all the road signs and paint were there. “When they had the orange cones, it was very confusing, but now it’s not,” Wedemeyer said.
Still, he admits that roundabouts can be intimidating, in part because drivers have to pay more attention than they may be used to.
“The first time you tell a student ‘rotary’ or ’roundabout,’ they freeze. It’s one of the hardest things for any driver to learn, because you can’t stop and think about it,” he said. “You have to think while with a light, there’s not too much of a thought process there.”
“Maybe that’s why the liquor store is doing so well: They need a couple of drinks after they stop by!”