Jeff Jardine

Opinions vary on new round-about on Modesto's McHenry Avenue

The area’s newest round-about opened Saturday afternoon as a temporary traffic fixture at the intersection of McHenry Avenue and River Road, just across the Stanislaus River in San Joaquin County.

Except this one really isn’t all that round. In fact, it looks like a kidney, which prompted San Joaquin County officials to call it a “bean-about,” because of its kidney-bean shape. I think we all can agree that bean-about has a much more pleasant ring to it than a kidney-about, so we’ll go with their version. Either way, it looks odd compared to the usual circular round-abouts on most streets or roads. Designed by former city of Modesto traffic engineer Firoz Vohra, it is shaped that way for reasons. First, to get people to slow down as they head into it and to give big truck-trailer rigs the ability to negotiate the turns by running over the rubberized yellow curbing without crushing them.

In theory, it’s only supposed to be there until San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties join forces to rebuild the bridge spanning the Stanislaus, which construction beginning in 2017 and at a projected cost of $25 million. Then it will be replaced by a four-way stoplight. Maybe.

The bean-about replaces a four-way stop that saw cars backed up by the dozens in all four directions at certain times. What happens if people decide they like it?

“If it works as well as it has so far, we can always ask the designers (to design a permanent round-about),” said Jim Stone, deputy director of San Joaquin County’s Public Works Department.

And like most of round-abouts or bean-abouts, it will take winning over some skeptics. Some folks simply do not like round-abouts under any circumstances. Some never really feel comfortable in navigating them. Others, I suspect, will clamor for the four-way light. Then, once its installed and they get backed up in traffic, they’ll wonder why those idiots ever got rid of the bean-about in the first place?

Certainly, the opening reviews posted on the (heart) WeEscalon Facebook page suggest there are plenty of skeptics, event though the first two-plus days generated no reported accidents or injuries. Most were pretty, well, straightforward about what they think about the bean-about. A sampling, sans the last names:

From Tricia: “Well it does say it's temporary ... and it's gonna be better than what we had!”

To which Andrea replied, “Tricia it's gonna be there like a year!! And the 4-way stop was better. There is gonna be some many more accidents there!”

Pam wrote, “It will be interesting to see the trucks coming from the gravel yard on River Rd trying to turn left on McHenry pulling a set of doubles.”

Cliff added, “It's gonna be backed up worse than it normally is or there will be a few fender benders lol. In my opinion it's not gonna work but hey, I could be wrong.”

Kyle wrote, “Bunch of morons it needs a light! The trucks will never have a chance to go thru the round about with the heavy traffic”

Other contributions ranged from “stupid” to “waste of money” to “ridiculous” and “bad idea.”

But the bean-about does have its supporters.

John wrote, “Well done. A smart option for a complicated project.” Another, Patty, wrote that she lives in a city in Kenya that has nothing but round-abouts. “Let the roundabout be your friend!,” she urged.

Another contributor, also named John, added “You are always going to have that one bonehead that can't understand this simple concept and take a left and go the opposite way thru it. ...Huge props getting this project done!! Love it!”

Functional as it appears to be, it isn’t exactly the fountains at Trevi aesthetically. Nor it is intended to be. Big orange blocks in the center, white vinyl stakes along the sides, and those rubberized curb pieces on the ground give it the look of the playroom where some kid forgot to put away the Lego set. But for the time being it should serve its purpose by discouraging drivers from trying to take exaggerated shortcuts.

“So they couldn’t just shoot straight through it,” Stone said.

Time will tell. In a year or so from now, I suspect if I check back on the WeEscalon Facebook page, the bean-about lovers and skeptics will still be going round and round.