junction in Manchester, VT

Junctions

I have noted before that towns in America seem remarkably bashful about telling you that you have just entered them. Shazza has since pointed out that rivers don’t seem anything like so shy. As she says, there’s no missing the Big Pee Dee River and the Little Pee Dee River. But why police departments feel the need to have their own rivers is quite beyond me.  

Perhaps I should make clear that my complaint about the failure of towns to announce themselves doesn’t just apply to major highways. Most seem reluctant to do it even on smaller roads. So there we are, footling along at 50mph or so, when a sign pops up to warn drivers that the limit will soon be dropping to 35mph. Well, whoop-de-doo! We must be about to be somewhere! But apparently the actual name of the place is given out only on a need-to-know basis, and evidently I don’t need to know.  

Traffic Signals

Which is a shame. Because there’s one thing that American road planners really know how to do. And that’s a junction with traffic signals. What those planners manage to accomplish on sites where the only purpose is to join roads together is really quite something to behold.  

At the sight of traffic signals, even the humblest road, with one lane in each direction, suddenly sprouts wings. Or, rather, an extra lane on either side.  

Roads with two or three lanes in each direction really go to town (even if they still don’t declare which town). They typically offer not just one, but two (or even three) lanes for each direction. And there’s nothing the American public likes more than options.  

I am now convinced that road planners are just frustrated interior designers. I can imagine them all commenting to one another: “Does it work for you, dear? Because it really doesn’t do it for me.”  

Lights and Signs

But it’s not just the magnificence of the road layout that is impressive. Oh, no! There’s all the road painting that goes with it: all those beautifully stenciled arrows take work, you know. And then there’s all the added signage, though I wish the ones screaming that “Right lane MUST turn right” would tone it down a bit. (Maybe they got designed at the end of a particularly fraught week.)  

And let’s not forget the graphic designers. They get to create the pretty diagrams above the road, supposedly indicating what lane you’re meant to be in to go in the direction you want to go. I’m sure we can agree that these diagrams are a good thing. But the designers themselves must be a deeply depressed lot, because the diagrams patently don’t work. There’s always someone in the wrong lane, holding up the traffic.  

But surely the pièce de résistance are the traffic signals themselves. They are, in essence, a free son et lumière show. (Without the son, of course.) There’s reds and greens and ambers all lighting up in sync in different phases, with a variety of beautifully-lit arrows accompanying the regular full-on headlight effects. Sometimes the planners even decide that a simple vertical or horizontal arrow really just doesn’t do it for them, and so we get a couple of particularly nice ones that display at 45° from vertical. What a treat!  

Elaine absolutely loves such junctions. She might have been asleep for the previous fifty miles, but she comes awake even faster than Strudel if there’s a traffic signal to ogle. Get in the middle lane, she orders. (She has great affection for the middle lane.) But she evidently feels that she can’t quite trust me because, even if I’m already in the middle lane, she’s likely to repeat her instruction a couple of times. Alright, Elaine! Keep your hair on!  

Competition

So why is it a shame that towns don’t announce themselves? Well, we all know that Americans love nothing more than a competition. They can’t even talk about apple pie without someone claiming to know who makes the best one. But you can’t have a competition if you can’t name the competitors.  

What I’d like to see is a best-kept road junction competition. Drivers could submit nominations based on such things as road surface, quality of light show, and decipherability of diagrams. (That might help cheer up the graphic designers.) There would be bonus points for how excited Elaine gets when she sees them.  

We just need some sponsorship — no idea why, actually, but apparently everything needs sponsorship — and a group of judges. I nominate Shazza. She needs something to do to keep her out of mischief.