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Road Rage (Part 1)

I26A five part series this week – one a day, every day this week because it’s about time that I got something off my chest : The state of American roads.

More specifically is my failure to get my head around things that I think are totally dumb, which I gather here that everyone just takes for granted because they’ve grown up driving these roads and have got used to the way things work.

However, seventeen years of driving in the the UK and being totally used to British road signs and road markings means that everything here is just totally weird in the way that things are done.

I’ll start today’s with something that I find most bizarre:

You’re on a motorway [freeway], heading east and you want to come off a junction up onto the road above you that’s heading north.

First of, you have to contend with whether the right hand lane is going to become the slip road, or whether the slip road is going to be a seperate road off of the freeway. Back in the UK, there are nice clear road signs many hundreds of yards in advance showing you what type of exit it is – but here, there is no warning and if you don’t know you often have to wait until the last moment to see what it is.

Secondly, for a country that is 5.9 million miles square big, the tossers that design slip roads have got shit for brains. “I know lads … we’ve got loads of space here to have a nice gentle slip road meaning that vehicles can carry on at a reasonable high speed, is that okay?”.

“You what?” chips in someone else. “Wouldn’t it be far more fun to have the tightest curve possible so that cars have to massively decelerate at the last moment?”.

And so it is – you’re going along at 70mph, and then when you hit the junction – it appears suddenly – no nice long slip road in which to brake, and so you’re suddenly confronted with sign that that says ’20mph’ and you’ve got zero yards in which to slow down by 50 mph.

Leighs TankMobile is often in danger of toppling over as I fail to realise how crap US roads are at giving you time to slow down in.

Countdown MarkersAlso .. i’m used to my nice ‘countdown’ markers on UK motorway, which give you an indication of how soon a junction is approaching – you don’t get those here. The amount of times I’ve missed my turn and have to come off on the next one and double back is … well, quite a lot.

Stupid Slips RoadsTalking of doubling back though – at least the stooopid design of the junctions let you do that with ease. Because here’s what happens (see diagram)

A – You slow down from 70mph to 40mph in the space of no yards to make the turn onto the slip road.

B – As you come round the junction, you have to really quicky CHANGE LANE almost immediately … why? because …

C – … there is traffic coming in that wants to come off that same road, and the space used for cars coming on and cars coming off is THE SAME. How dumb is that?

D – If you’re lucky and a) You remember, and b) You get time/space to do it then you can get across in time, otherwise …

E – THE SAME LANE that you’ve just come in on in about 50 yards time becomes a lane to go BACK off and onto the same road that you just came off on in the reverse direction!

Three times in six months since I’ve been here in Charleston, I’ve been heading up the I26, and made the turn to go to Charleston airport. And three times you’ll have heard me go “Oh for fucks sake” as I’ve immediately found myself going back down the slip road onto the I26 in the opposite direction.

More road rage tomorrow.

[And if you’re not using Internet Explorer to look at this page right now, then you’re missing out on a predictable audio treat…]

24 responses to “Road Rage (Part 1)”

  1. Chris says:

    Where’s it coming from??????

    And actually, it’s not all over the front page (of your site)!

  2. Wayne says:

    What’s this? Can I really be the first commenter? I can die happy. Or the counter is wrong…

    I see what you mean about the cloverleaf junctions, but they seem to work OK here in Germany. But then there are decent countdown markers, so you know to slow down, and then car C is going at pretty much the same speed as car B at that point where you have to swap.

    Oh, and while I’m here, I’m not sure I approve of the “predictable audio treat”, especially as there doesn’t appear to be an off switch, in case my colleagues are not so appreciative… Oh, and (moan whinge) the last quarter of the comments box is blocked by the side bar and edge of screen. Yeah, I know, Firefox is the answer. But sort it out for us folk who don’t have the choice.

    Right, now I’ve probably missed the first comment slot …

  3. geofftech says:

    Wayne – You are the first commenter. Congratulations. You may now die. I’ll see if I can get Cerys Matthews to sing (on loop) at your funeral, okay?

    And yes, I really should sort out the comments box for you IE users. One day…

  4. Wayne – in Germany, you at least have the collector/ distributor lane separated from the mainline of the motorway. And the Germans are sticklers for obeying the rules of the road, and very polite, so that probably helps.

    You can turn off the sounds by going to options and finding the thing in advanced that says “let pages play sounds” or something.

  5. Agricola says:

    I wondered how long it would take for you to come to grips with our lousy engineering. But, consider the suburban traffic issue that many cities grapple with. A non-cloverleaf turn requires a stop-light at the intersection of the “slip lane” (love that term) for any traffic wishing to turn left. Thus, to avoid traffic backing up onto the interstate (which happens anyway), the cloverleaf design allows for a non-stoplight intersection. Go to Atlanta or Charlotte at rush hour and you will see what I mean.

  6. Bob H says:


    Doing something IE only? Shame on you, still thats what the Firefox “View Page in IE Tab” plugin is for.

    At then end of summer I borrowed a car, a spare old Mercades that my father has. It munches petrol (gas) probably almost as badly as the Tankmobile. But it is fair to say that I rarely drive, and thus me behind the wheel of a large and, while not young, fast car was probably not a good idea.

    I think I’ve carved up too many people driving on the South Circular and I have accidently run at least two sets of traffic lights because I was busy trying to figure out what the heck I was doing.

    There is a lovely bit on the East bound South Circular, no idea of the exact position, but it does its usual turn, turn, turn and then give you an option of going left or right and both signs say “South Circular”. Logically I should realised that if I want to carry on heading East I must take the left turning but I’ve just been turned so much that on at least two occasions now I have found myself heading back west and needing to turn around!

    I am going to borrow the car at Christmas if Dad hasn’t been able to sell it, lets just hope the weather is good, else someone might be having an accident.


  7. From time to time I go to Holland with work, and sometimes that involves a drive through Belgium, France, and the Channel Tunnel to Dover. I’m only ever a passenger in the car, but some of the Dutch and Belgian motorway junctions are quite unusual, with exit lanes peeling off from the fast lane as well as the slow lane. Several of the motorway exits/junctions on that route require very rapid drop of speed (limits marked in km/h too!) before a very sharp curve… and one member of our group staff actually did turn a car over a few years back!

  8. David - Lightwater says:

    hmm the dutch motorways aren’t that bad! I will update this when I am more sober!

  9. David - Lightwater says:

    The Welsh though, I like them, but still!

  10. M25 / M4 junction in the UKAgricola. This junction design is free flowing, and avoids weaving.

    (Click on the image, or here to be taken to it in Google Map)

    Or you could have a roundabout – I’m sure Geoff will explain their wondrous merits.

    It’s my opinion that the lack of roundabouts explains the American obsession with the automatic gearbox.


  11. geofftech says:

    Magic RoundaboutOh man … ROUNDABOUTS! indeed. (Or “rotarys” as I’ve heard them called here).

    Most major UK motorway junctions have roundabouts in them – simple. But here? Hardly anywhere to be seen .. in fact, I can think of only TWO small roundabouts in the whole of Charleston that I’ve come across.
    Request to USA: More roundabouts please.

    Maybe all American road engineers should be taken to Hemel Hempsted in the UK to see the magic roundabout (similar to the ‘Five Bells’ on the A13 in Essex)


  12. Shemsi says:

    Thanks to Agricola now I understand the SC obsession with cloverleaf turns. We didn’t have many of those in TX. We just had stop lights at the end of each off-ramp. So, you had to go from 55mph to 0 pretty quickly.

    Also, the max speed limit was typically 55mph and not 70. Also, there was always traffic backed up all the way down the highway. Once it took us 3 hours to go 30 miles – seriously.

    The main problem we have with SC is that there are trees everywhere and that’s why we miss our exists. We haven’t really come across any significant traffic here though. I really like driving on the highways here. A lot.

    As for your precious England … I can’t tell you the number of times that I almost got run down trying to cross the street … or my phobia of those roundabouts. We had those in Kuwait too and I just can’t deal with them. But then Kuwaiti drivers are a whole ‘nother story.

  13. jj says:

    cloverleaf: the national flower of the US interstate system.

    when they try to do away with or avoid them here, it’s usually worse, though.

    i love roundabouts. but have you seen the average American driver in a roundabout? i think all the local roundabouts are in Mt. Pleasant, fwiw.

  14. geofftech says:

    Mount Pleasant RoundaboutsConcur! Just google map’d Mount Pleasant SC, and there are two along Rifle Range Road – this one intersects with Venning Road.


  15. No Geoff, American road planners should not be shown magic roundabouts in Hemel or elsewhere.

    There’s that classic clip from National Lampoon’s European Vacation when the family get stuck on a roundabout. Note to Axis of evil. Install roundabouts around your border, and you will be safe.

  16. Mikey says:

    “There’s that classic clip from National Lampoon’s European Vacation when the family get stuck on a roundabout.”

    Great movie.

  17. CV says:

    I have also (many times) had to stand hard on the brakes as a slip road suddenly went very tight on me in US.

    Slip roads – two rules for American civil engineers. 1. Keep the radius constant (that way people can drive round them at a constant speed), and 2. put the entry slip after the exit slip (see M4/M25 junction posted by #9). That way joining and leaving traffic doesn’t get tangled up. Having said that there are a couple of places I know of in the UK where it’s the other way round (Worcester park exit on the A3, southbound), and the Hanworth slip road on the A316 – near my house), and there are frequent accidents because people trying to leave the main road (highway) get tangled up with people trying to join it.

  18. Senji says:

    Argh, you’re giving me A14/M11 junction flashbacks…

  19. Chz says:

    Comment box works fine in IE7. You just need people to upgrade. 😉

  20. Julia says:

    I take it you will be covering Traffic lights tomorrow then?!!!

  21. geofftech says:

    Traffice lights are Road Rage Part 4, Jools!

  22. Dunce says:

    American road planners are trying to install (mini) roundabouts, at least in some areas, to replace four-way stop intersections (one of the things that irritated me the most growing up there). At least in central Indiana the new roundabouts seem to have caused an inordinate amount of outrage–possibly even becoming a local election issue.

  23. Agricola says:

    I lived in England for two years, a long time ago, and thought that roundabouts were the greatest thing since sliced bread. I still think they are a great traffic idea, but when the town of Mt.Pleasant (here in Charleston) had an opportunity to use roundabouts instead of “flyovers” and opted for the conventional. It is probably also time for Geoff to talk about the differences in driver training in the States vs the UK and the rest of Europe. Most of us do not have a clue…….

  24. Garion says:

    There’s a junction just like the one you’re ‘moaning’ about in Plymouth with the exact same layout and i find it irratating because I see loads of drivers braking suddenly when they realise they’re in the wrong way. One time when i was in my dad’s car, someone went into us because of the design. Bad planning eh??

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