What is the one thing that can top a four-level interchange? How about a five-level interchange, like the Puxi Viaduct in Shanghai, ranked fourth in Waze.com’s list of the most complicated and dangerous roads in the world.
Among the list of 19 twisty-turny, steep and bumpy, rocky and dirty pathways are three urban roads with no particular scenic beauty. They arise as concrete vortexes of congestion, accidents, pollution, and unattractiveness. These roads – the Puxi Viaduct in Shanghai, the Judge Harry Pregerson Interchange in Los Angeles, and the Gravelly Hill Interchange in Birmingham, UK – may not offer the same adrenaline rush that, say, the “Road of Death” offers in Bolivia (ranked 6th, behind both China’s and U.S.’s highway monstrosities), but it is safe to say that death (or at least the fear of death) isn’t uncommon on their well-paved lanes.
The first four-level interchange was the proud result of American engineering. In 1953, to make the grand valleys under Hollywood’s shadow accessible to all L.A. residents, a modern marvel of construction and transportation opened to the public. To this day, the Golden State’s residents have mixed feelings about the cloverleaf designs. Some consider them a “work of art”; others, a “mad motorist’s dream.”
“Like ancient, unfixable plumbing, the four-level is deplorable, annoying, indispensable, prone to clogs and probably stuck here forever,” said David Ferrell, a Los Angeles Times writer. Clearly, the four-level influence has marred the rest of the world.
In exchange for cheap transportation to open up more channels in and out of a city, these urban nightmares have vastly increased pollution and traffic congestion, and created eyesores that are unsustainable in cities across the world. Problem is, the quick-fix has become a longstanding habit that’s hard to kick.
Why do they persist? “They are planned and rational,” said Susan Parman, anthropology professor at Cal State Fullerton, in the LA Times article. “In some ways the four-levels are a kind of statement: This is our dream, this is our city, and never mind the dangers that might go along with it.”
The construction of gargantuan interchanges is not something that goes away quickly. Like bad tattoos, they serve as a reminder of a city’s urban planning follies. The three city roads that made it on Waze.com’s list aren’t necessarily dangerous because of steep mountain inclines or narrow cave-like passageways. They earned the distinction because they show that the city values cars, not people; that pedestrian-friendly public spaces are far less important than traffic flow; and that the environment will have to take a back seat to what drives modern society – a quick buck in the name of car culture.
However, urban roads need not have four or five levels to be dangerous. The average street in many cities, like Hanoi, for example, sees dozens of daily accidents simply due to congestion as a result of poor urban planning, or a lack of traffic safety regulations (in developing cities, especially, it isn’t uncommon for a two-wheeler to go off-road and on-sidewalk to bypass traffic; it has become an effective and accepted way to drive.)
Nonetheless, with the American mindset of “bigger is better” creeping into the international psyche (think of China’s highway system!), more roads and more interchange levels will be built to accommodate the influx of drivers. I don’t know about you, but I feel like we’re going in circles.