Every time that I have to drive over SR99 on Cleveland Avenue, I wonder what kind of twisted mind dreamed up that jumble of lanes that makes up the overpass. It has to be one of the most confusing intersections in California, to be outdone only by the mish-mash of roads that one finds in certain parts of France and Italy.
The interchange at SR145 is not much better. In fact, while I was still teaching at the Madera Center on Avenue 12, I was trying to explain to a textbook representative how to meet me for lunch at the Vineyard. After attempting to draw a map, I crumpled the paper, threw it into the wastebasket, and said, “Just meet me here (in my campus office), and I’ll take you.”
Consequently, when I saw an article, written by Justin McLachlan, titled “Street Smarts” in the current issue of Popular Science, I was compelled to read it. As we all know, each year cars seem to be manufactured with amazing new inventions, but they still run on your grandfather’s roads. However, that may be changing. Engineers in several countries are experimenting with “intelligent streets” that are designed to save time, money, and lives.
Driving surfaces have not had a major change since the early 1800’s, when we started paving over dirt roads. The basic idea that we’ve used is attributed to John MacAdam, a Scottish engineer, born in 1756. He believed that the large stones and multi-layer surfaces that were previously used were unnecessary. He advocated a single layer of much smaller stones which were then covered with a surface material that became known as macadam (obviously named after him). In the U.S., the first macadam road was laid between Hagerstown and Boonsboro, Md., and it was named the Boonsboro Turnpike Road. Even today, roadways that are called “freeways” in the west are referred to as “turnpikes” in the East. MacAdam’s second road in the U.S. was the Cumberland Road, a 73 mile stretch of highway that was completed in 1830...