King of the Road …

Sometimes when driving the vast distances that you find in this country, you come to realise just how small a place Britain is…

 It is indeed a truism that whilst Americans think that 100 years is a long time, we Brits think 100 miles is a long way ! 

 Oftentimes when I’m in my convertible I can hear the sound of Roger Miller singing the song that I have made the title of this particular piece going through my head. If I have been a little hard on things this side of the pond in recent postings, it is time to redress the balance. We Brits are simply clueless when it comes to how to build good road systems……

 Part of this is undeniably because our country is much older, and we were the first to go through the process of industrialisation. However – roads that were eminently suitable for a horse and cart, or even carriages are not necessarily going to be good for motor vehicles. All too often it is clear that the roads and streets we drive on today were essentially created by paving over the dirt roads of yore…. 

 Here in Las Vegas the road system was designed and built from the ground up (our city is only 103 years old), and based upon a simple north/south – east/west grid. At least here in the American south west, road planners decided that traffic lights would be suspended over the road they were controlling on a sort of long boom, as a result of which the name of the street you were crossing could be prominently displayed. This seems such a simple idea, yet is a tremendous help when you are trying to find your way around – you can invariably tell what street you are on, and which one you have just crossed.

 In England you are on your own… Many streets don’t even have their name displayed – even at prominent intersections, so you are left to guess and hope ! Almost all locations here can be described by simply giving the name of the street they are on, and the nearest one that intersects – so my office is at Sahara and Lamb for example…. At home giving directions like this would be pointless – most of the time you have absolutely no idea what street you are on, or what you are passing !

 I’m not quite sure what qualifications English road planners need to have before they come to the job – having actually driven a vehicle doesn’t seem to be much of a requirement ! In many urban centres they actually take pride in proclaiming that by re-arranging routing arrangements they have made life more difficult for motorists ! I reckon if they tried that here they’d have a second revolution on their hands…… I’m sure the right to drive a car must be buried somewhere within the Constitution !

 The absolute nadir for British road planners must surely have been the M25 motorway. This is an orbital “beltway” that encircles London, and at 117 miles is one of the longest in the world. When it opened in October 1986 it was pretty well already maxed out in terms of it’s capacity – they simply hadn’t built enough lanes for the volume of traffic ! When people here in Vegas complain about “horrendous traffic” I think back to the hours wasted whilst stationary on London’s orbital parking lot and tell them that they don’t have a real problem here at all.  Everything is relative I guess….

 The sad truth for folks back home is simply that there are far too many cars on the road. As families have grown more affluent it has seemed a natural evolution for them to become multiple car families, often with older teenage children getting in to the act as well. As a small island we just don’t have the capacity for these new vehicles, and no amount of hand-wringing is going to cure this. The ONLY way that the nation’s congestion problems can be solved is by limiting the number of cars any one family can have at a single house, which will go down like a lead balloon… In the same way the turkeys never knowingly vote for an early Christmas or Thanksgiving, no politician is going to run with this  in their manifesto….

 Some of the road I like best here are those that don’t really go anywhere (cue for that Talking Heads “Road to Nowhere” in the background !)…. One of my favourite places here is Red Rock Canyon, a National Conservation Area that is managed by the BLM and is an area of outstanding natural beauty. The BLM constructed a 14 mile paved road as a “scenic-loop” drive that meanders it’s way past the mountains and rock formations ending up a short distance from it’s start point. A wonderful example of really great road to nowhere….

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