Road Design, Signage and Road Rage – Part 1

Driving in the greater Boston area gives me lots of opportunities to contemplate the roots of road rage. (Driving in Boston is like doing regular field studies of road rage!) I’m often taken by how much road design and signage helps create the kind of conditions that lead to road rage.  

For example, there are the hundreds of locations where two lanes merge into one with no warning: no signs, no arrows indicating that one of the lanes is for a turning only, no lines to indicate that a lane is disappearing. A typical example is the intersection of Broadway and Alewife Brook Parkway on the Somerville/Arlington border. If you’re on Broadway heading toward Arlington, there are clearly two lanes with a lane divider lane. Cross Alewife Brook Parkway and all of a sudden there are cars parked on the right and only room for one lane of traffic. But no “Lane Ends, Merge Left” sign on the Arlington side. On the Somerville side, there’s no indication that either lane is for turning only, so it often happens that the first car in each lane is going straight.  

What happens when two cars are going for the same space? Sometimes people realize it and there’s a kind of loose cooperation that emerges (i.e., people on the left let one car from the right in, and the pattern continues until everyone is merged into the single lane). But more often than not, people being what they are, every driver plows forward and a kind of free-for-all occurs with everyone fighting for space. It’s inevitable in this situation that someone will get angry and hit the horn, or someone will drive forward aggressively to keep someone else from merging (because heaven forbid that anyone fall behind by so much as a single car: they might get to their destination five seconds later!).  

Imagine if all of these problems intersections were clearly marked. And given that many people don’t understand the rules of the road, imagine if the signage provided detail as to how to merge in a cooperative manner. 

P.S. – My thanks to Mark Chase who has an excellent blog (Civil Streets) and recently posted about this topic, which got me to thinking. Check it out:

Categories: Random thoughts

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3 replies

  1. I took a class at Berkeley that analyzed certain urban forms and their meaning. For example, gridded, regular streets are meant to be easy to navigate for newcomers and invoke a sense of openness. Irregular streets and street systems, being more difficult to navigate for newcomers, convey a sense of a closed community. I always felt that Boston was an insiders town, especially since the lack of signage makes it difficult to navigate, particularly for newcomers, of which there are plenty, given the number of students.

  2. That's right on, Kelly. I've always been struck by the fact that they don't sign major streets in this area, except at major intersections. I've never been anywhere (other than here) where they don't mark both streets at an intersection. The whole attitude seems to be \”If you're not from here, what are you doing here?\”

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