Stress, anxiety, confusion as we navigate new Cork intersections

Ailin Quinlan said many motorists are bewildered and anxious at new intersections in Cork
Stress, anxiety, confusion as we navigate new Cork intersections

A section of the newly-opened Macroom bypass. Some people have aired concerns about signage on the approaches to the new intersections - here and at the Jack Lynch Tunnel and Dunkettle Roundabout. Picture: Neil Michael

THE lady in the snappy purple boots sighed. She was dreading the drive back to North Cork, she said.

We were standing, shivering, in a long queue outside a funeral home in West Cork, waiting to pay our respects to the family of the deceased on what must have been the worst day of the year. It was freezing and sleeting, and a vicious wind nipped at the exposed skin on our wrists and necks.

We pulled our sleeves down, our scarves tighter and stamped our feet to get the blood circulating, shoving our hands into our pockets. The leather boots that had seemed so warm and sturdy when I put them on earlier, were useless against the cold. I cursed my frozen solid feet.

“Why are you so worried about the drive back?” I asked.

It was partly because she still wasn’t entirely sure of the best way to manage the Macroom bypass, she added. It had given trouble previously and, well, with the weather today, the last thing she wanted to do was go wrong again. Her job, she revealed, required a fair bit of road travel from one end of Cork county to the other, and although over the years she’s learned about every rat-run, side road and short-cut throughout the length and breadth of the county, of late she’d become anxious about the big new intersections.

She felt there was a real lack of adequate signage to help one navigate the approaches to the Macroom Bypass, the Jack Lynch Tunnel and the spaghetti junction that was the area around the Dunkettle Roundabout. This was causing her significant stress, she said.

She found these roads unnerving and chaotic, and was always frightened that she’d end up coming out on the wrong lane and ending up miles from where she needed to be. It had happened more than once.

I nodded. I knew exactly what she was talking about. It had happened to me. Cork city and county councils, please take note: The lack of proper, clear and understandable signage at each of these three big intersections has resulted in this intelligent, competent professional – who travels FOR A LIVING - becoming confused and stressed, and as a result she has taking the wrong route on a number of occasions.

And this, presumably, though she didn’t say it, causes time-loss, disruption, delays, and even more stress.

No matter how careful she tried to be, she was flummoxed by the absence of the clear, well-located signage which is needed to make the three junctions manageable.

Of late, she had noticed that she was becoming anxious and stressed even when that day’s big junction of diverging lanes was some kilometres away.

So, break it down, for me, I told her.

The first problem was the lack of sufficient signs on the approach to, around and at any of the three intersections, she said. The second problem was that the few signs that had been erected, had been installed far too close to the point at which the motorist had to decide to change lanes. The lack of advance signposting to help the motorist decide with confidence which way to turn meant there was a high risk of someone making a mistake, realising his or her error at the last minute, and trying to right themselves by switching lanes too abruptly and without indicating. Both of these failures demonstrate a lack of clarity of thought and organisation, she said.

She personally had begun to hate when any of these three junctions had to be incorporated into her working day – and they often were, given the large geographical area she travelled daily as part of her job. Quite unexpectedly, these man-made-anthills had, very suddenly, become a cause of severe daily stress.

I knew what she meant. I recalled how we had had to travel from West Cork to Dublin recently, If we hadn’t been warned in advance by a family acquaintance about the lack of adequate signage on the approach to the Jack Lynch Tunnel and the need to know which lane to take, we would definitely have ended up in the wrong direction.

The reason this family member rang to explain about which lane to select and at what point, was because, he, an experienced city motorist, had found it so confusing that he had recently taken wrong turns due to the lack of clear, well-located, adequate road signage.

So, being objective about it, it’s probably not just the woman in the purple boots, or me, or the odd family member who can’t navigate these intersections with confidence.

We two also agreed that the continued presence of the old electronic signs, now blacked-out, was actually quite distracting. You found yourself looking at them because you were used to checking them. Because they were still there, you wasted precious seconds looking at them for guidance. Next thing you knew you were past them, still without any idea where to go as there was no sign replacing them in the same place.

What the engineers and the other people who designed these new road intersections need to do is to leave their offices for a while and find motorists from different walks of life, specifically people who are unfamiliar with these routes, and invite them to navigate these chaotic intersections at different points of the day – morning rush hour, quiet times, school collection times, Saturday/Sunday shopping times, home-ward rush hours, returning with useful feedback...

The job of these motorists would be to find failures in the provision of much-needed signposting, report where and when signposting was required, what sort of signposting was needed, and how many signposts they felt were required to avoid the kind of anxiety and confusion that drivers are reporting.

The location of road signs is absolutely crucial to ensure adequate notice and warning is given to motorists about the need to change lanes and take the correct exits and lanes to get to where they are going. It seems that no thought is given to the ordinary motorist trying to navigate these snake-clusters, the woman in the purple boots declared. I agreed whole-heartedly.

It’s a similar mindset that decides on the outrageously short amount of time that pedestrian crossings allow for people to traverse the crossing between two impatient, growling ranks of waiting traffic. Imagine being on crutches. Or pushing a walker, or being a mother holding a toddler by the hand while pushing a baby in a buggy laden with swinging shopping bags. Or having osteoporosis, or just being being old and slow on two walking sticks.

It seemed to me the highly qualified people who designed and built these big road new intersections made a dangerous assumption. They complacently assumed that everyone else using these state-of-the-art multi-million-euro intersections would immediately be as familiar with the new lay-outs as they were. If so, they were wrong.

The whole point of designing and creating these big new intersections and flyovers and motorways and so on, is to free up traffic and make the flow easier, smoother and faster.

But what’s happening instead is that the failure to provide clear, understandable signage in the right locations, giving clear advance warning of lanes and exits, is causing problems because it’s making so many motorists bewildered and anxious.

Stressed people are nervous. They get short-tempered. Some get frightened. Angry, even. They make rapid bad guesses and erroneous decisions which lead to mistakes.

They abruptly move into different lanes without warning because at the last minute they have realised they’ve nearly missed their exit. They panic. Panic means errors.

Making driving errors in fast-moving, highly mobile, free-flowing traffic brings a higher risk of accidents. An accident increases the risk of pile-ups. It means more delays. It means injuries. Deaths, even.

Cork city and county council take note. Go out and do something before someone is hurt!

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