Friday, April 28, 2006

Motorway madness

Although Cape Town was one of the first South African cities to construct a freeway network, it was eccentrically designed, with unconventional touches here and there that make driving an unpredictable experience, such as occasional entry ramps from the right in a country that drives on the left. The most inspired piece of lunacy is one I have to negotiate every day. Not only does it feature an on-ramp from the right (thus having motorists entering via the fast lane or trying to) but it has a confluence where a two-lane highway (which I use) enters the freeway proper (mercifully from the left). This would be unexceptional were it not for the fact that the meeting point is about 150 metres from a split in the freeway, with the two leftmost lanes peeling on to the airport road (N2) and the two rightmost (the M3) ploughing straight ahead through the suburbs and out to my coastal refuge.

So immediately you gain entry to the freeway from the highway, you must immediately move across two fast-moving lanes to lanes 3 and 4 -- while many other drivers already in the two right lanes are frantically attempting the reverse. Apparently there used to be a road sign at this point which said: "Weave". And that is what you do.

Amazingly, after the first few bouts of terror at the wheel, you get used to it. Providentially, for every driver seeking to weave to the M3, there seems to be another wishing to sashay into the N2. Still, no sooner have you reached the sanctuary of lane 4 than the on-ramp from the right looms -- and the traffic on it, driven by necessity, is travelling faster than you are. Many drivers then dice for the right of way, with sometimes painful results, or simply don't see their nemesis homing in.

On Tuesday, pelting rain was added to the mix. This meant both the highway and the freeway were packed with vehicles and changing lanes was simply a gamble. It was misty, yet most of the idiots didn't have their lights on, or thought parking lights would do. Do they think they're saving electricity? It certainly didn't inhibit their taste for excessive speed.

Anyway, as I tried to see the way ahead while checking my side mirror for an opening, the large SUV in front of me, attempting a similar manoeuvre, was forced to slam on the brakes as selfish sods ploughed past on our right, stranding the cars in our lane. I whacked the SUV very hard indeed trying to brake. Result, total chaos as our lane now became a no-go zone. The nice lady in the SUV had a very large umbrella (the golfing kind) and dashed to my window, to exchange details. Damage to SUV: nil. Damage to VW Polo: shattered light and battered bumper. Damage to my day: total. Cost of new light (the whole fitting): ridiculous. But just enough to fall below the policy exclusion level.

I was hoping to get a photo of the piece de resistance of our idiosyncratic roads network, the Freeway Interchange to Nowhere that rears over our Foreshore like an ambitious sculpture, rods sticking out of the end bit where abandonment took place. But there seem to be none available, as if it is too shameful to expose to the world. I shall take one myself.

Why was it never finished? No one seems to be sure. There is now talk of completing the job as we become a "world city", indeed the city council is still asserting on its website that it will be finished before the International Conference Centre opens, which was in 2003, actually. It is a popular location for action movie shoots, so it does bring in a bit of revenue. Grand plans are a great Cape Town tradition. They make a headline or two and then everyone sensibly forgets about them. Capetonians are like old hippies, still yarning about the same utopian visions but couldn't be arsed to try to realise them.


Blogger Interpreter Pavlov said...

Sorry to hear about all this. I don't remember ever being much more stressed than when driving about Cape Town. But easily the most bizarre characteristic was occasionally reading ROBOT painted in huge letters on the road surface, a timely reminder of determinism and one's fate being in others' hands.

I met Beverley Roos-Muller the other day.

10:06 AM  
Blogger DavetheF said...

You do get stressed till you get used to it. Capetonians are too laid back to signal, for example, and haven't yet tumbled to the fact that their old fishing village is a big metropolis now.

8:56 PM  

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