Those Romans clearly knew what they were on about, with not one but five roundabouts on the way to Cirencester.
I love to drive. In England, I always volunteered to do the driving if anyone was organizing an outing, especially if newcomers were coming along. Most Americans have difficulty driving in the UK when they first arrive, but that's mainly to do with knowing one's way around. The driving part—well, that's easy, I found.
Most Americans assume the hard part of driving in the UK is just staying on the left side of the road. But I quickly adjusted to that. Roundabouts are also assumed to be a problem, but once I figured out that the car inside the roundabout has the right of way, those were easy peasy too. In fact, I soon came to love roundabouts—I enjoyed gliding through them, after a tap on the brakes to slow down, a glance to the right, and then a smooth acceleration into the circle. Signs clearly marked which spoke to get off on, and the lanes were marked with arrows so you knew the proper lane to be in for your exit.
And luckily, I have a good sense of direction, so the winding network of ancient roads in Britain weren't much of a challenge; in fact, I quite enjoyed tooling around, figuring out which village lay in the direction I wanted to go, finding quaint out-of-the-way spots I'd never have found by using a sat nav.
I could go on, but writing about driving in England just makes me sad, now that I'm living in a major metropolitan area in America. The roads here are monstrously wide—some have six lanes, with turn lanes on either side, which, theoretically, should get you where you want to go faster, right? Wrong. At every intersection, including multiple entrances to shopping centers, there's a traffic light. And at each traffic light there are signals to turn, both directions, which mean the red lights last hours.
I can't figure out what people do to amuse themselves while they're waiting at the interminable red lights. I've seen some drivers fiddling with their phones. I've thought about bringing a book to read. Some ingenious marketer ought to provide traffic light entertainment. Maybe a giant screen set up over the lanes, showing YouTube videos or short news clips for the waiting drivers. I'd love to catch up on the latest breaking news while I'm gathering my thoughts at yet another red light.
There are also superhighways here, limited access interstates with names all ending in 95. Some of them have HOV lanes; others have HOT lanes, and I know if I try to drive in them I'll be arrested and summarily shot. So I avoid the interstates altogether, thinking longingly of the friendly M25 as I prepare to brake at yet another red light.
It's nerve wracking, knowing that at any moment a light will turn amber, then red, as I cruise down the road. What if I'm going too fast to stop? What if I'm glancing at the radio dial and I miss it altogether? What if I'm in the wrong lane to turn, or worse, am in the left lane and suddenly everyone in it wants to turn and the traffic whizzing by on the right won't let me get over? And then I have to sit through, yes, another damned red light. And here I am without a book to read.
Another puzzling thing: though I've found people here are amazingly friendly when they're not in their cars—even when they're in close proximity to their cars in the parking lot—once they get in their cars, they can't wait to express their rage. I've been honked at repeatedly, and there's never any of the friendly gestures, the winking tail lights thanking me for letting someone cut in, that I became used to in Britain, where people will cross the street to avoid talking to you in person, but they'll always let you cut into traffic.
I've decided driving is the thing I dislike most about America. If someone could start from scratch, tear up all the roads and begin again, as if they're Roman engineers two thousand years ago, I'm certain the sharp intersections would be replaced by gentle roundabouts. The superwide streets would be supplemented with sidewalks and crosswalks—even a zebra or two would be welcome. And flower salesmen at the stop lights, offering fresh bouquets for a tenner, would go a long way in making our commutes more awesome.
I suspect people would be less cross here in America if they didn't have to worry about stopping for red lights so often, if the wide concrete expanses were less like an airport runway and more like a country lane. And let's replace those HOV lanes with single-track roads, shall we? That'll put a stop to fuel-hogging Americans driving their behemoths to work instead of using public transportation, like sensible people.