23 August 2006

The Roads in Quebec Go Round and Round...

Me and Queen Aardvark just got back from a great trip to Quebec City. If you haven't gone, go. It's like visiting Europe; city walls, narrow streets, great french and italian food (we spent entirely too much, and I ate a lot even when I wasn't hungry, just because it was so good), lots of old buildings and neat architecture. It was all good other than damaging my new digital camera.

But, as an engineer, one thing really rankled me about Quebec: the roads are crap.

Now, I'm not talking about old Quebec City; they have an excuse, in that their roads are tiny things built in the 1600s. They are allowed to be old-looking, narrow, mostly one-way, and not meet up at right angles.

But why should most of the new highways in the province be the same?

The highways in Quebec are insane. It's like they were designed by a drunk person, on top of being in generally bad states of repair.

In Ontario, we have all of our onramps and offramps on the right side of the road. Sometimes we can't do that in the middle of a big city like Toronto, so we post lots of signs far ahead so people have time to react. In Quebec, ramps come on either side haphazardly, often with only one small sign about 200m before the ramp itself. Of course, that means driving like Paul Tracy just to make your exit.

The highways are also much more complicated than they need to be. Cloverleaf structures are by nature complicated, but when Quebec does them, you'll feel like you're driving on one of those diner placemats with the childrens' mazes on them. For some reason, if you want to turn right, you will take a ramp off the left side of the road which will go under the ramp going straight and then turn right. And to turn left, you may or may not have to drive around an extra big traffic circle somehow incorporated into the cloverleaf.

Also, when you're in a big city, say, Montreal, you tend to get situations like this:
Picture a major elevated highway.
You have a large arterial road that needs to have a ramp onto the highway.
You have another large arterial road in the same neighbourhood, also needing a ramp to the highway.

So, what to do? Well, you could have two separate ramps entering the highway a slightly different locations, allowing enough time for traffic to filter in. Or you could have both arterial roads share an extra large, double lane ramp to accomodate all the traffic.

Or, you could do what Montreal does on a regular basis: have both roads share a ramp, but make the ramp only a single lane, causing a gigantic traffic backup clogging both arterial roads.

I think I know why Quebec drivers are crazy, and it's not their fault; their highways make them that way.

On the plus side, we (my wife and I are both engineers) made a pilgrimmage to see the Quebec Bridge, which is the inspiration for Iron Rings Canadian engineers wear on their pinkies.

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