A Massachusetts Yankee in Queen Elizabeth’s country. It will take a very (very) long time for me to be able to walk up to a woman I don’t know (such as at a hotel or in a restaurant) and say “Excuse me, can you tell me where I find the toilet?” Unless Guy Smith-Ferrier is winding me up, that is very much the normal way to ask, and no one things a thing about it. He seemed quite surprised that I’d have any hesitation!
Second, all in all, the traffic engineering here is far superior to the States. The bad news, and I can’t imagine the reason, is that they don’ have left-on-red (in all of the US except New York City, if you come to a red light and you are making a right turn, you may come to a full stop and then if it is safe, you may continue.)
What the Brits do have, however, is a conspicuous absence of stop signs (I’m told you can find one if you look, but you have to look). Instead, not only at merges, but also at T junctions, they mark the road “Give Way” (Yield), which is just right, it tells you what your responsibility is, not how to execute it.
The traffic lights have a slightly different, and better cycle. They go from Green to Amber to Red as they do in the US, and with the same meaning, but rather than going from Red to Green, they go from Red to Red & Amber (briefly) and then on to Green. The intermediate Red/Amber is “lights about to turn green, put your car in gear” as far (far!) more people in the UK drive a standard, which makes sense given that petrol is upwards of £1.20 a liter. There are 3.78541 liters in a gallon (US, not UK) and the pound is worth about $1.70. That means, that one gallon of gas costs $7.72. or just less than 3 times the cost in the US.
Finally, while I know that most Americans outside of New England hate Roundabouts (which back home we call Rotaries), they are, for the most part, the best way to move traffic through an intersection. Much more important, however, is that here they have mini-roundabouts, which at first glance serve no purpose but on a moment’s reflection have these advantages:
- You can safely handle a 4 way intersection without stop signs
- A person turning never blocks the people who want to continue
The mini-roundabouts are truly tiny, but they remove the need for any kind of control (stop sign, light, etc.) at 4 way intersections:
I’ve added three arrows to show how traffic moves, the blue arrow makes the left turn, the black goes straight, and the red shows a right turn. Piece of cake.
The Magic Roundabout
Once you have regular roundabouts and mini-roundabouts under your belt, are you ready for the (I kid you now) Magic Roundabout? This is five mini-roundabouts, all arranged in a circle. Wikipedia reports that there is agreement that it is the “scariest junction in the UK” but, nonetheless, moves traffic through faster with fewer accidents.