Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Road Switch


September 7th is Samoa’s Y2K. Relatively speaking it probably costs more than the big non-event cost Americans at the eve of this millennium. Samoans are switching from driving on the right side (American) of the road to the left (British). Those with left hand drive vehicles predict Armageddon, but unlike Y2K something is going to happen.

Samoa has always been more economically and socially tied to New Zealand than America. The current switch is back to where it originally was when the Americans left a lot of left hand drive military vehicles and poured aid into Samoa after WWII. But times and alliances change. What once was, is now again.

The irony of the switch is two years ago when I first came here there was one traffic light in the country. The South Pacific Games in August-September of 2007 changed all that as the government spent millions and took millions to showcase the country, Savaii’s lone semaphore being the last to be erected. Now the government must spend millions of which it does not have and shall not receive within the foreseeable future to reverse the face of the showcase.

Whatever happens won’t change things much. There has always been a mix of left and right hand drive vehicles making it interesting as to what side of the car you enter to ride shotgun, or whether it is safer to walk facing traffic or go with the flow.

1 comment:

Matt H said...

Nick - I shared your comment about the traffic switch with a traffic engineer friend in the office who has done a lot of traveling. His comment below. Looking forward to seeing you back in MN soon. Matt

Geir and I talked about Sweden's switch in 1967. He was in Norway at the time. I heard about from my wife's Swedish relatives.

Crossing from mainland Europe to Britain or even Sweden at that time was not a problem. You drove off the ferry into usually a one way system until you left the dock area. However, the borders with Norway and Finland would have been an issue.

I drove through a border crossing area between Sweden and Norway, east of Oslo in 1978. At that time it was just a very wide spot in the road and there were no passport controls inside Scandinavia even then, just a sign "Velkommen til Sverige". I asked Geir about how the crossing had looked before Sweden switched. He said the roadways looked like a figure 8 and there was an all-way stop at the crossing where you switched over.

It must have looked like 1/2 of a diverging diamond interchange.

I remember reading that 5 years before the switch the Swedes stop selling right hand drive cars in Sweden, all buses were built with doors on both sides, and traffic signs and signals were designed for quick conversion. Fortunately there were very few roundabouts and they would not have had modern designs. (A test I perform when someone draws a roundabout is to have it made into a transparency and if you view it from the back would it work the same. If it would, the design is wrong.)

I think I also heard that during the 5 year prep phase, all intersection channelization was done with paint and then after the switch some locations got permanent medians.

The switch was made at 2:00 in the morning, but everyone stayed up and they did have their biggest traffic jams in history. When I was there in 1978, there was definitely no residual effects.

By the way, arrow lenses in signals can be readily rotated.