Round & Round It Goes: Roundabout Woes

Nearly a decade ago, 84-year-old Enid Dimley of Paradise filed a lawsuit against the city of Chico. Mrs. Dimley, a widow, claimed in her lawsuit that a roadway design known as a “roundabout” had so confused her that she went around in circles for almost three hours until she ran out of gas and was rear-ended by another motorist who had blacked out in the heat of a Chico summer day. The case was settled out of court with a payment made to Mrs. Dimley’s lawyers. Under the terms of the settlement, the amount the city paid to settle the complaint was never disclosed. Chico town fathers (and mothers) assumed that the case was an irritating anomaly—just an old lady from Paradise overwhelmed by the complexities of life and traffic in a big city. Paradise drivers, after all, are well known locally for their inability to handle driving, even in that rural village, so they could hardly be expected to manage the challenges of driving in a more cosmopolitan urban environment like Chico. Even before the roundabouts were built to upgrade Chico’s traffic sophistication, drivers from Paradise often seemed confused and disoriented when they hit town.

Undeterred by the lawsuit, the city of Chico authorized building more roundabouts, though very few Chico residents were ever able to figure out what good they were doing, or why they were being built. Some local activists who opposed the roundabouts speculated that Jeff Jukkola, the lead engineer credited (or blamed) for pushing the construction of the roundabouts, may have been indulging his nostalgia for a brief visit he made to France shortly after he graduated from college. Many other Chicoans, however, decided that the roundabouts were doing no harm (and were, at the very least, providing jobs for road workers), so the road projects continued until there were six such roundabouts sprinkled throughout the town, often popping up where motorists least expected to find them.

Also popping up with greater and greater frequency were lawsuits like the one pioneered by Enid Dimley. Area methamphetamine users began to mistake the roundabouts for mini-speedways, and the Saturday Night Meth Races soon became a regular feature of underground life in Chico. These races racked up more than a few accidents as high-speed drivers high on speed turned the traffic features into mini versions of the raceway where the Indianapolis 500 is held each year.

Damage and confusion mounted even further when Chico State fraternities heard that meth addicts were engaged in racing their cars at several Chico roundabout sites. It was the kind of activity just crying out for fratboy participation, and Chico’s…

…fraternities responded with the kind of creative thinking for which they’ve long been known. Several of them joined together to sponsor keggers that were followed by visits to the roundabouts, where the Greeksters bombarded the meth speedsters with paint-filled condoms. Not wishing to be left out, at least two Chico sororities joined in, with sisters flashing their breasts as drivers sped around the roundabouts. Between the speed, the booze, the paint, and the distraction of the breast flashers, city liability cases began to add up to a significant drain on Chico’s resources.

Since the Dimley case, the City of Chico has been hit with 379 lawsuits connected to the roundabouts, although no deaths or serious injuries have yet been attributed to these obvious traffic hazards. Dreamt up by bored traffic engineers, perhaps out of nostalgia for their youthful experiences in Europe, the roundabouts are now seen to have been a major boondoggle—yet another example of government waste and inefficiency.

Meanwhile, Jeff Jukkola, the aforementioned chief engineer, was relieved of his duties in the latest round of pink slips that went out to a number of city employees. A spokesman for the city council said, however, that there was no connection between Mr. Jukkola’s dismissal and the roundabout snafu and/or controversy.

Rumors circulating through the District Attorney’s office do, however, suggest that arrest warrants are about to be issued for the politicians who colluded with roadway contractors to build the six roundabouts that have vexed Chico drivers ever since construction first began in 2004. Public sentiment seems to favor hanging as an appropriate punitive measure for the people who thrust new traffic patterns upon a city where most people found them expensive, confusing, and utterly unnecessary. Meth-heads and fratboys, however, are organizing a counter protest in which they plan to push for building more roundabouts closer to the campus.

Contacted for comment in her Paradise nursing home, the now 94-year-old Mrs. Dimley said, “I told ‘em them circles were no goddamn good,” before she dozed off and was wheeled back to her room.