Government has to spend money on something. So the Cape Cod Unified Work Planning Program, funded through the Federal Highway Administration and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, has decided to spend $75,000 on a study of the Mashpee Rotary.
This is despite the fact that the Mashpee Rotary works remarkably well most of the time.
The study has three main goals: to improve safety in the rotary; to reduce congestion; and to better accommodate all users of the roadway, including drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians.
All laudable on their face, but this is a case where some of the potential “fixes” could easily make things worse.
At present, the rotary handles three heavy traffic flows—Route 28 east of the rotary, Route 151 west of the rotary, and Route 28 west of the rotary—as well as lesser flows from Great Neck Roads North and South.
Yet the backups that occur—and backups do occur, especially in the summer—usually clear relatively quickly.
Here’s why: the Mashpee Rotary is big and wide open.
Off in the distance, you can see the next vehicle in the rotary heading your way as you prepare to enter the rotary. You often have enough time to slip in, even if that vehicle is moving along at a good clip, which it often is.
Or, if you can’t make an entry immediately, you usually can make one within 10 to 20 seconds.
Compare the experience of entering and exiting the Mashpee Rotary to a far scarier experience: entering and exiting the Airport Rotary in Hyannis.
Here’s why the Airport Rotary is scarier: the distances are far shorter, not only in that rotary but also between its entry/exit points.
Getting safely into and out of the Airport Rotary is routinely nerve-wracking and sporadically terrifying.
Drivers who have spent years going through the Airport Rotary probably feel like they have died and gone to heaven when they start driving through the Mashpee Rotary on a regular basis. It’s like the Mashpee circle is barely a rotary at all.
Yes, there are accidents at the Mashpee rotary. But they tend to be minor—not the mangled wreckage variety.
When it comes to the Mashpee Rotary, yes, there are ways to improve traffic flow and safety for all kinds of users, including bicyclists and pedestrians.
But those ways almost all involve changes at a distance from the physical rotary itself, which the state should leave alone, aside from maybe painting “YIELD” in large letters on the pavement at every entry point.
These structural changes would come on and near the approaches to the rotary, rather than at the circle itself.
A quick list:
• Create a roundabout at the one undisputed trouble point near the rotary: where Market Street in the older section of Mashpee Commons crosses Route 151 and becomes North Market Street in the newer section.
Eastbound traffic on Route 151 at the rotary routinely backs up at busy times into the Market Street intersection, compounded by eastbound 151 traffic trying to turn left onto North Market Street.
A roundabout would ease the congestion chokepoint. Vehicles could move when they could, rather than waiting for signals to turn.
• Create paths for bicyclists trying to get past the Mashpee Rotary on land near but away from the rotary. Bikers won’t mind traveling a little extra distance in return for a far safer transit.
• Encourage pedestrians to use the same paths. At present, the rotary is a pedestrian desert, and deservedly so. To rework the immediate vicinity of the rotary to accommodate the handful of pedestrians who venture there is a foolish waste of money.
Mashpee needs traffic improvements, but the Mashpee Rotary is far down that list.