Sunday, March 04, 2012

The craziest intersection in Sharjah

I've been mulling this post over in my head for months. Originally, I wanted to take a video camera with me in the car and just drive through this intersection a couple of times to give you an idea of the sheer terror of it. However, I did not do this for two reasons:

1. I am not willing to drive through this intersection for research purposes. Heck, I am hardly willing to drive through this intersection even when it's the only way to get from Point A to Point B.

2. I am afraid that the presence of the camera would distract me enough to render me incapable of devoting my ENTIRE attention to navigating this intersection, and then I would crash and die.

So you get a Google Maps screen shot, sorry. Here is the craziest intersection of Sharjah, in my opinion, in all its glory:
Ta-da! Now, maybe it doesn't look so bad. So let's gather some context.

You've got your basic, terrifying, oblong traffic circle. The oblong ones are the worst because the tight turns require really fast exiting maneuvers, with more limited visibility. But still, it's just one traffic circle, right?


You see, there is another traffic circle nested inside the bigger traffic circle, and it's another oblong one. That adds a significant layer of complexity/terror. So there's that.

Please also note the overpass that spans the entire traffic circle (marked Al Arouba Street). Like an unwieldy sea monster, it extends its off-ramps and on-ramps onto the traffic circle like so many tentacles.

There are also a few insanely designed trouble spots in this traffic circle within a traffic circle. For starters, there's this entry point:
where three paths of traffic flow (in green) converge at the area marked by the red circle. It defies description, and belief, and order. Plus, two of those feeder paths have TWO LANES feeding into the circle, all at once (the off-ramp of the overpass thankfully has only one, and it's regulated by a surprise stop sign that is universally ignored because if you stop, the people behind you will slam into you). It is a freaking jamboree of cars encountering each other at odd angles and speeds and intervals. It's one of those situations where you just plunge into the circle and DRIVE, displaying the highest level of intention and purpose as possible, and let everyone else figure out how they're going to deal with your presence.

Another trouble spot comes after you've managed to dart through 4-odd lanes of weaving traffic proceeding at unpredictable speeds, sneak under the bridge within the smaller traffic circle, and access the on-ramp to the overpass. Basically, you've "turned left." At this point:
the two lanes of the on-ramp run into the two lanes of the overpass. And I mean that literally. There is no merging area, no extra lane that gives you some wiggle room to fit in nicely with the existing traffic that is flying over that bridge. There are two lanes, and there are two other lanes, and they mash together. Terrifying.

The locals tend to agree that the road structures in Sharjah are odd - they claim that the city grew so quickly that there wasn't time to re-grid everything and make it all nice and safely navigable. I believe it. A traffic circle like the one I've described here might have been fine when there weren't too many cars around. Now, it's the kind of place where if you are in the car with me, and we are having a conversation, or listening to music, I tell you to be quiet, and I turn off the music, and I do my best to get us through the next few traffic maneuvers safely.

Now who wants to go for a drive?!?


Katie Lewis said...

And to think I used to hate driving in Utah. With its--wait for it--ONE freeway.

Liz Johnson said...

What's crazy is that I had this insane roundabout by my house in Mexico, and when I looked it up, it looked positively simple compared to the one you just showed. MY GOODNESS. Question - do people give the existing people in the circle the right of way?

Because the one by my house (see HERE) has three roads with incoming traffic (each with two lanes) and three roads with outgoing traffic, but the difficulty was always that incoming traffic basically got the right of way. And it was six lanes wide, too. So there were six lanes of traffic going around a circle, and three separate on-ramps, and three separate off-ramps, and you knew that the people coming into the circle were coming full-speed and that you had to watch for them as you navigated around.

It was also terrifying, and yet I got to be REALLY good at it. It was like an advanced course in offensive defensive driving.

Liz Johnson said...

Also, I should clarify that there were officially four lanes of traffic around the circle (in terms of how the lines were painted). But really, there were six, because nobody ever paid attention the lines. It was great.

Kathy Haynie said...

Kudos for a very clear explanation of an amazingly complex topic. And no, thanks, I'll walk. :)

Bridget said...

Liz, my mind breaks every time I try to imagine a traffic circle where INcoming traffic has the right of way. What fresh insanity is this?? I can't believe your mom let you drive. On the other hand, you can drive anywhere if you've driven there, I guess.

Suzanne Bubnash said...

My brain is fried . . . Around here, county traffic engineers approach road design as if drivers are imbeciles--there must be 'x' number of feet between this intersection and that one, 'x' amount of visibility around the curve, etc. And it makes driving safe and simple. I love it!

Finding My Way Softly said...

Makes me grateful to live on Mt Hood where roads do loop around on each other, but they generally take at least 2 miles to do it. I guess I have been here long enough now (almost a year) that I find driving around Portland a pain. I grew up driving in it, and I certainly can do it with the radio on, but I really love winding country roads and one major highway for almost all my daily commutes. I take two right and one left to go to church, which is about 15ish miles from home. :-) I love that simplicity!


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