"Comedy always works best when it is mean-spirited" - John Cleese

Author John Corby also writes as "Bulldogge" for the British Canadian newspaper.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

10 Reasons I Left Britain #10. British Roads

If they built southern Ontario's Highway 401 in Britain there wouldn't be much country left either side of the road. For readers living outside the Greater Toronto Area I should describe Highway 401. Also known as the "MacDonald-Cartier Freeway" it runs from the Windsor-Detroit border in the west, right across southern Ontario and on up to the Quebec border not far from Montreal.

Praise the Lord
As the 401 crosses the Toronto area it is between 16 and 20 lanes wide. It is actually two highways in one. The "express lanes" (ok Toronto commuters, stop laughing) form the core of the highway while the "collector lanes" feed traffic from intersections onto the main highway. There are cameras all the way along the highway so that people outside Toronto can look at all the motionless cars in rush hour (there 24 rush hours each day in Toronto) online and praise the Lord they don't have to drive there.

High Class Congestion

Traffic is so congested that another highway runs across Toronto parallel to Highway 401. It is a toll road called Highway 407. It has a higher class of congestion because people pay a lot of money to sit in traffic line-ups on the 407.

Watch for Gators
Roads in southern Ontario were built in a grid pattern designed by an Englishman (Governor John Simcoe). Outside the cities (whose roads are also built on a grid pattern) roads run roughly east-west and north-south. Ontario is divided into square lots of land each 200 acres in size. If you miss a turn in Ontario simply go around the block. I tried that idea while on vacation in Florida once and ended up in an alligator swamp.

Stuck in the Mud

British roads were built quite differently. When a road was needed to go from the village of Nether Wallop to its neighbouring community of Little Smackbottom it was built in a direct line. Roads are not straight but they do take a fairly direct route between two places. If you miss your turn do not even think about driving round the block; you will end up in Lost Waytown and it will be dark by then ... and the map won't show the "B" road that crosses the ford over the River Stuck-in-the-Mud that is closed for roadworks anyway.

Squeeze Please
British roads are not very wide. While on vacation in the soutwest of England last year we found a "B road" that was so narrow the hedges on both sides of the road were scraping against the sides of our car. We considered ourselves lucky that we hadn't chosen the "white road" instead. On British motoring maps, "A roads" are major routes, "B roads" are smaller local roads. "A roads" and "B roads" are given a number (eg: B2009) while unnumbered "white roads" are even narrower local roads.

Dizzy, I'm So Dizzy
The very best idea British road builders ever had was the roundabout. Visitors to Britain would not always agree with me on that. However, compare that to the Ontario road system which is a never-ending system of stop signs. The day you fail to come to a full and complete stop there will be a policeman waiting at the intersection who will be very pleased to make your acquaintance. When you approach a roundabout you merely have to yield to traffic already on the roundabout.

Roundabouts, or traffic circles as they are known here, are beginning to appear in some communities in Ontario. Construction of roundabouts is strongly opposed by the billionaires who own the factory making stop signs.

The problem with roundabouts is they cost more to build than stop signs. British road builders have found a way around that problem. Instead of the traditional half acre of land covered in inaccessible grass, they now build mini-roundabouts that are nothing more than a small round bump in the middle of an intersection. You can drive right over it if you wish. But then mysterious complexes of intersecting and adjacent concrete bumps started to appear.

It is rumoured that these new mini-roundabout complexes were inspired by the complex systems of crop circles that pop up overnight in British farm fields. It may be true; they make just about as much sense.

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