The first time my Los Angeles-raised fiancee saw my New England hometown, her overarching impression, reinforced through a half-dozen disorienting car trips, was these roads make no sense. I can allow that it may be hard for someone raised in a grid to appreciate the anachronistic charms of wagon trails beaten into submission. I can also allow that sometimes that heritage makes for some truly terrible intersections - like this five way signal-free beast in New London.
Here it is with the entry paths highlighted. It’s basically two two-lane roads converging in a fork, with a third two-lane road slicing right through the middle and turning into an entry-exit setup for that shopping center on the other side. If you think this is confusing, check out the below image with all the possible paths worked out:
That, my friends, is a clusterfuck. Be sure to maximize the image for the full effect. The road at the bottom is split into two one-lane one-way paths by that lowest island, and they remain single lanes until meeting up with oncoming traffic along the sides of the big island at top. This is all governed by just four stop signs, with the red path being the lucky right-of-way winner. Let’s investigate this horror with some street view shots.
Green Arrow View
This was actually the direction I drove through this crucible on the way to high school every day - it’s hard to tell but this is a downhill slope, and one time I slid on ice right through the stop sign and threaded the needle between two crossing cars. Anyway, this is not fun because traffic coming from the top left corner of the screen can either go straight past you on the left or follow the curve between the islands in front of you, where they don’t have a stop sign. But the curve is pretty abrupt and oncoming drivers rarely signal into it, so if you don’t want to get t-boned you have to wait until the last possible second to see if they’re really going straight. But even without the stress of the right-of-way traffic, the jockeying for stop sign order is also difficult because everything is so spread out. People who don’t know the intersection (my grandfather) will often hook an immediate left around that large triangular island to get to the shopping center, driving into oncoming traffic. It’s stupid because the legal way to do that is totally counter-intuitive - you drive around the outside of that small island in the middle and hook and even harder left turn that feels illegal.
Also, as you’ll see below, traffic coming in from the shopping center on the left will gun it off the line and try and beat you, because they think they’re not part of the equation yet and they follow the path of the red arrow into the intersection and are thus (in their feeble minds) granted right of way.
Blue Arrow View
So yeah, this path complicates things. You can either follow the silver car and hope that whoever is stopped where that red van is (green arrow) grants you right of way or turn right. This sounds simple, but that white car illustrates the danger. Traffic coming from the road opposite this side (yellow arrow) hooks around the island to turn left. I’ve seen more than one accident where someone following the path of the white car didn’t signal left, so someone waiting at this stop sign started to pull out and wham. And the same problem of red arrow people coming from the left and not signaling into the intersection affects you here too, because you have to wait to ensure you’re not going to get nailed. The limit is 35 on the pass through so red arrow people are carrying some speed since they never have to stop even if they turn.
Red Arrow View
Even the Google Street view car didn’t want to deal with this intersection too much, as there’s no imagery following the red arrow. So this is the best I could do - the top image is the right-of-way path through the islands, the head of the arrow. The bottom picture is where all the lines exit on the clusterfuck map, to the left of the base of the arrow. Let me tell you, it can be very nervewracking as you approach following the red arrow and you see people holding at every stop sign - sometimes someone will lose focus, bank on taking a path you’re not and start to go while you’re in the middle of it. Or someone won’t know how the intersection works and assume you have a stop sign - that’s my personal favorite. Then they’re angry and dangerous.
Yellow Arrow View
Again, the Google driver refused to make five passes through this thing and so we have an offset yellow arrow image as well. The main danger here, aside from people from the shopping center charging through and hooking a hard left around the middle island into your path, is people from the green arrow side. A lack of a turn signal can mean several things - they could interpret straight as proceeding directly across the intersection toward the camera in this image. Or it could mean going off the left side of the screen, because in reality it’s a very gentle turn and in their mind the hard left around the island into the shopping center is more worthy of a signal.
Black Arrow View
It’s harder to see in this shot because the Jeep is blocking the right-of-way red arrow path, but if you aren’t paying attention and don’t see the small KEEP RIGHT sign on the central island, it’s very easy to believe you’re supposed to drive up the wrong way into oncoming traffic. Again, you have to wait a long time if there are other drivers crowding around because it’s so hard to judge intention and direction. If you’re waiting at this sign, people following the red path will start to speed up before they even reach that far island to make it dangerous for you to try and pull out before they get through.
So what can be done? It’s been like this my whole life and likely several whole lives before that, which is often the guiding principle for making (or rather, not making) decisions that cost money in cloistered small towns across the country. There are countless ways to improve the traffic flow here - bulldoze everything except the northernmost large island, put in a comprehensive light with multiple turn cycles - but given that infrastructure seems to be a bottom-level budget priority these days, I doubt any of that will ever happen. Maybe one day I can drive the wrong way through this intersection with my concerned grandson in the back seat too.