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Motorists would be wise to keep Samaritan around

It was half-past pumpkin pie time early Thanksgiving evening when Larry Lyon began the trip from a friend’s house in Kyle Canyon down State Route 157 toward the lights of Las Vegas.

The road has been under construction for months during a widening project with the improvements intended to increase safety and traffic flow on asphalt that’s well-traveled on weekends and during the snow season.

Approximately 4 miles from the Mount Charleston Lodge, Lyon reached what has to be one of the more peculiar road features anywhere in rural Nevada: a roundabout meant to keep vehicles moving not only up and down the mountain but in and out of a handsome new National Forest Service visitors center and picnic area in the process of completion.

You read that correctly: A roundabout. It’s a miniature version of the kind you might see in a European city — only without the fancy fountain or statue of a forgotten Army general.

As an aside, you can also experience a roundabout in Summerlin. Which, to my knowledge, has never been mistaken for a European city.

Easily visible during the day, after the sun sets behind Charleston Peak the roundabout fades into the inky shadows.

As Lyon learned first-hand, even a vehicle’s headlamps don’t illuminate the road’s suddenly circular motion. Overhead lighting is poor, and caution signs aren’t of much help unless you’re paying close attention.

As he approached the roundabout — a downright sophisticated addition to the mountain, don’t you think? — he noticed that a vehicle ahead of him had failed to negotiate the turn. It had careened into a gully. Lyon pulled to the roadside to assist the startled, but otherwise unhurt California tourists.

Before he finished calming their nerves, a second vehicle with three passengers clipped the roundabout’s concrete curb and blew a tire. The car wobbled to a stop. Lyon hadn’t intended to end his Thanksgiving as a one-man AAA service, but he assisted with the tire change.

In a few minutes, a Nevada Highway Patrol trooper with the misfortune of having to work on the holiday arrived at the scene.

The roundabout, already stained with tire tread marks, was silent again. The night of Thanksgiving resumed, and five weary travelers surely were thankful for the trooper and their new friend, Larry.

This story is what statisticians and bureaucrats call an anecdote. It’s not backed up by startling numbers of dozens or hundreds of accidents, injuries and fatalities associated with a roundabout located on a poorly lighted country highway. That is, I suspect, in part because the roundabout has only been open a short time. Real winter at Mount Charleston has yet to arrive.

When it does, there will be plenty of ice and snow on that roundabout.

Unless officials are planning to pay for the road construction with ticket sales to an impromptu demolition derby, they would be wise to reconfigure the roundabout — or at least improve its lighting.

I like European culture as much as the next fellow, but Good Samaritans like Larry Lyon don’t come along every day.

Nevada native John L. Smith also writes a column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal that appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Contact him at jsmith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295.

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