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Jim Kenzie's Top 10 ways to fix the roads

Wheels writer Jim Kenzie has a prescription for what ails our roads.
Jim Kenzie
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Why are our roads so bad?

We are constantly being told by our government that we have the best, safest roads anywhere.

So how come we are always whining about them?

Hard as it may be for you to believe, I have some opinions on how they could be improved.

And yes, somebody did ask.

So here are my Top 10 suggestions. (As always, your recommendations are welcome too.)

1. Fix the lane markings.

No prizes for guessing this would be my No.1.

The right lane is the driving lane, embedded in tradition, good manners, logic and the law.

So why does it keep disappearing?

You should be able to get into the right lane of Hwy.401 coming out of the customs booth in Windsor, drive to the Quebec border and never have to use your turn signal to change lanes.

Unless you want to, of course.

The right lane should NEVER merge into the middle or left lanes – on a municipal road or a highway. The right lane should NEVER become an off-ramp.

These designs scare people into staying in the middle or left lanes, where they impede the progress of other traffic.

They also confuse everyone, especially visitors who don’t know the local lay of the land. One should not require “local knowledge” to drive safely.

The sanctity of the right lane is an international standard; adhering to it makes our roads safer.

So why do our road designers violate this standard so regularly?

Grow lanes to the left, Shrink lanes from the left and add off-ramps to the right.

On-ramps should merge with the driving lane after a suitable distance to allow for acceleration.

Couldn’t be much simpler.

This is not only my No.1 beef, it would be dead-simple and dead-cheap to fix. A few weekends and a few hundred litres of line paint, and we’re done.

I don’t get it.

2. Tell people about this

Once the above has been accomplished (I’m not holding my breath…) then every overpass on the highway – every single one of them – should have a sign saying something to the effect: “Keep Right Except to Pass”; “All Traffic Keep Right” (not “Slower Traffic Keep Right”, because nobody wants to think of themselves as being “slower”); or, “Hey you in the blue Tempo – this means you!”

If it would be too expensive, get Coca-Cola or the Winter Olympics or somebody to sponsor the signage.

I’m sure you’d have no trouble selling the space – think of the eyeballs they could reach.

So, we’d have safer traffic, and balance the budget too.

Win-win, sez I.

3. Build more roundabouts

The benefits of roundabouts – improved traffic safety, improved efficiency, reduced pollution, reduced fuel consumption – are just so obvious, and proven everywhere they’ve been tried (yes, even right here in Canada, next door in Waterloo Region) that it boggles the mind that we don’t have them everywhere.

If we were to retrofit every intersection that should have one, this would be more complicated and more expensive than repainting the lane markings.

But with the pace of road building going on these days, all we need is a commitment that they are the future. Then every time an intersection needed to be rebuilt, we’d get another of the most effective traffic management devices ever invented.

How tough is this to understand?

4. Fewer stop signs

For the same reasons roundabouts are brilliant, stop signs are stupid.

The objective of stop signs is to avoid T-bone crashes at intersections.

But there is no reason whatsoever why you have to come to a complete stop in order to accomplish this important but easily attained objective.

The British manage quite well by treating virtually every intersection as a Yield, rather than a Stop.

Why can’t we?

5. Fix the construction zone markings

They’ve actually made some progress on this one, with the orange lane markings they are now using in some places on the interminable and omnipresent construction zones on the 401.

But the old ones were completely invisible at night, and in the rain, you couldn’t tell the construction markings from the old ones.

Scary.

6. Demand a warranty on road repairs

While on the subject of construction, does it not appear to you that the same chunks of road are constantly being rebuilt?

When they are newly finished, the surface is smooth, it looks great and it drives great.

But – and I appreciate this may largely be my imagination – it seems that a couple of years later (I almost wrote “a couple of years down the road,” but even I have some standards…) the same stretch of road is all being torn up again.

I imagine there must be some sort of expected life-span on newly built (or rebuilt) highways.

I also understand better roads cost more, and maybe the construction companies hog-tied by onerous contract limitations, or have to bid low to get the job.

I have read that concrete highways last longer than asphalt, but they aren’t as comfortable to drive on, at least not initially, due to the bump-thump caused by the expansion joints.

It must be a complex business.

But do road-building companies offer any kind of warranty on their work? Does anybody track how the road deteriorates? If it falls apart prematurely, shouldn’t they be forced to fix it at their expense?

7. Fix the highway exit signs

What genius came up with the exit signs on the 401?

Typically, they have a single arrow on the left, pointing straight ahead, and a double-headed arrow to the right, with one of the points going straight ahead, and the other aiming off to the right, presumably indicating the exit.

So, where do they put the name which identifies the street you’re exiting to?

Not beside the arrow pointing to the exit. That would make too much sense.

They put it beside the solitary arrow which points straight ahead.

Which is exactly the direction you DON’T want to go to take the exit.

Sure, we have become used to this idiocy. The human machine is remarkably forgiving of bad design.

But why should we have to adapt? Why can’t we have good design to begin with?

8. Build more rest stops

Research has long shown that driving performance drops off remarkably after about two hours behind the wheel.

Your eyes get tired, your vision drops, and you cannot centre the car properly in the lane. The car tends to slew off the road – the classic “two-wheel shoulder drop-off.”

This typically scares the whee out of the driver. Again typically, the reaction is over-reaction, a violent steering manoeuvre which often causes the car to rocket across the road, leading to a roll-over in the median or, worse still, a head-on crash with another vehicle heading the other way.

One answer – the one the Ontario government chose when this issue came up a number of years ago following a coroner’s inquest into a spate of fatal crashes on the 401 between Trenton and Cornwall – was to build a wall in the median strip, so the inevitable crashes would become ricochets into the same lane, rather than head-ons or roll-overs.

A step, you should pardon the expression, in the right direction.

But hardly the answer.

Which, of course, is more rest stops, preferably situated every two hours or so along major highways, along with appropriate signage encouraging their use.

Maybe even a few picnic tables…

9. More rumble strips

Again, we’ve had some progress here, with these being quite common on the shoulders of the 401 and other major highways.

They give you a remarkably strong audible and sensory warning that you are about to leave the road with extreme prejudice, which is almost always a bad idea.

The same concept is also used to indicate the end of a freeway, or stop signs where you might not expect them.

Good idea.

Let’s have more.

10. Chevrons? Are you kidding me?

What road salt and snow plows have failed to accomplish, let’s complete the job by removing what’s left of those dumb chevrons on the freeways which were supposed to indicate how many car lengths you should leave between cars.

True, tailgating is dumb and dangerous.

But encouraging people to look down on the road surface instead of keeping their eyes up is 200 per cent the wrong thing to do.

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