Let’s start with a question: how much time do you spend pondering the American roadway system?
My answer is this: pretty much every time I drive.
I have redesigned cities in my head. And in my head, I am The Roadmaster.
There are little, simple things I would fix first: In Los Angeles, I would label things better. Most of the roads are labeled not by direction but by future towns they will pass. So when entering the 101 freeway for example you don’t choose ‘north’ or ‘south’ you choose ‘Thousand Oaks’ or ‘Anaheim’. You’d better know where those are or the people behind you are gonna develop some road rage. Also, the 101 – which runs north/south – meanders a bit. So in some places you don’t choose from ‘north’ or ‘south’ but from ‘east’ or ‘west’. Yeah, that’s confusing. It’s like they don’t want people moving to LA or something!
There are other things I would fix, too. Tech things. I always heard that, in Rome, they timed the stoplights, and shaved an hour from the time it took to get across town. And in my hometown (‘the city of scientists’) the lights along the turnpike WERE timed. If you drove the speed limit, you hit the first light red, then all the rest green. Pretty cool, huh? (they have since let the lights go to hell, which is sad.) But why can’t the rest of us do that?
We should also have a lot more traffic lights on trip wires. Don’t you always feel like you pull up to a light at night and wait and wait and wait for the light to change . . . while absolutely nobody goes by? Then, just when your luck (a.k.a. the light) changes, some poor sap pulls up from the other direction and has to wait while your lonely butt goes through the intersection. A trip wire would have had you home sooner and that other car not stopping. Does no one else see that this reduces pollution? And road rage? It’s win-win.
Some other things I want to do would require some major engineering. For example, roads that cross freeways at an exit should always cross OVER the highway. This means the exit ramp aims up – thus adding gravity to brakes and helping to stop your car before you hit cross traffic. More importantly, that means the entrance ramp aims down – again adding gravity to your driving. This means you merge at a better speed, save gas, don’t clog traffic and – maybe my favorite – don’t get caught behind that dinky car that can’t get up to sixty on flat ground let alone trying to chug its way UP a freeway entrance. Yeah, not so stupid is it? Road engineers, take note!
I do have to admit, though, that as disappointed as I have been in the American roadway system (have you been to Florida!?!?!) I had my eyes opened in Mexico. Though LA has potholes that you can sink a whole tire into, Mexico has potholes that you can lose a VW bus into. Right in the middle of the on ramp. I didn’t even have time to be grateful that the on-ramp aimed down. It was a raised ramp, too – so there was no ground under us . . . just a gaping hole which I could have seen through had I not had my eyes closed tight in fervent prayer as our driver hurtled the bus at the hole. Honestly, I’m pretty sure he was trying to get up speed to jump it. I didn’t see what happened, I only know that I prayed and was on the freeway later.
Also in Mexico, I learned that there are a lot of regulations about the allowable slope of American on- and off-ramps. There must be, because in Mexico when you exit the road you feel like you just fall off the side of it. Sometimes the road even tips the car sideways. None of it looks bad upon inspection, but if you drive it, you’ll learn that you knew swearwords you didn’t know you knew.
And yet, for all these rules and regs, the American roadway has a few of these crazy wonders, too. Have you ever seen those signs that say ‘caution 4% grade’? A 4 percent grade means the road drops 4 feet for every 100 horizontal feet. Oooooh. Scary. Really? They are warning us about 4%? I ride roller coasters! 4% is so lame. But after driving these roads, I have concluded that maybe American rules and regs aren’t so tight after all. They post those 4% grade signs, but I’m about to get my tape measure out and go check it for myself. That road cannot be a 4% grade. It’s got to be about 50% . . . or else why else would it feel like I’m gonna die? Tell me that!
Maybe I’m not the RoadMaster after all.
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