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Posted: 8:56 a.m. Monday, Aug. 5, 2013

Five lessons learned on the roads of Aruba  

By Doug Turnbull

A week off from the WSB Traffic Center may have shifted my brain down a few gears, but it didn’t purge my mind of traffic. Mine and my wife’s trip to Aruba last week marked the first time I had driven in another country. Now, I’ve been to plenty of countries before: Italy for sightseeing, China on a cultural exchange tour, Brazil and Thailand and Moldova for mission trips. But my several trips across the pond had never brought the need to drive. The tiny Caribbean island of Aruba, lined with mostly two-lane roads with speed limits no more than 50ish mph (80 kmh there), proved as my first foreign driving grounds in a small four-cylinder sedan. And I learned a few things we could bring back to the asphalt zoo that is the Atlanta road system.

1. Roundabouts Rock! – These just aren’t all that common in the States and are especially rare in Metro Atlanta – but they are the predominant technique used in big Aruban intersections. For those that do not know, roundabouts call for traffic to yield at an intersection and proceed when possible. Cars essentially file in one at a time, like a zipper, and then turn right onto the road and direction they want. They eliminate traffic lights and often keep traffic from completely stopping at an intersection. I have used a couple in Atlanta (Emory Village and in a parking lot of a big Perimeter Mall area shopping center) and do believe that Atlanta drivers (despite our often rectal-cranial inversion) could figure out and would appreciate more of these. We often complain about traffic light timing – roundabouts would eliminate these issues. I did botch a couple of mid-roundabout lane changes in Aruba, but overall loved the idea and wish there were more here. A 2010 New York Times article says people warm up to roundabouts after they start operating. I suggest to state and local officials they save money and hassle in the long run and make them a big part of Georgia’s roads.

2. Right and Left Turn Signals – This isn’t necessarily an improvement, but the few (like seriously, maybe five on the whole island) traffic lights Aruba did have were slightly different than ours. There were no right turns on red, in fact, right turn lanes had their own turn signal that sometimes was even red when thru traffic was green. This was because there is a left turn signal not only at the light, but also in the median. Yes, up to two or three cars could pull in line perpendicular to traffic and then wait for a green light to complete their left turns. This probably wouldn’t work in Atlanta, but I do like the idea of eliminating trying to dodge oncoming traffic to turn left.

3. Narrower Lanes Means Slower Speeds – When the whole island of Aruba is smaller than DeKalb County, everything is a little smaller. Parking spaces were tight everywhere, so most people (like us) drove compact cars. And the roads reflected this, as lanes are less spacious than they are in good ol’ USA. I actually like this, because the close proximity makes drivers feel less invincible and slow down. There are no Aruban interstates, so maximum speed limits never exceeded 50 mph and people generally minded them. I love driving fast, but the laid back and slower driving certainly made conditions safer.

4. Highway Naming Makes Sense – Having received literally thousands of reports by phone and Tweets of traffic information, I can’t tell you how many times I have had to correct the direction of travel people give me…especially on I-285. Surface street highways are trickier than freeways, as the bend and change from, say, a westbound road to a northbound one. Aruba doesn’t deal with directional highway names. Highway 1 is the country’s main drag along its western/southern coastline through its capital, Oranjestad. But instead of calling it Highway 1/northbound (or westbound – it is diagonal) officials named one direction “A” and the other “B.” Every highway did this, meaning people talked about the roads as if it they were two different roads. The hotel clerk would give me the direction, “Take Highway 2A,” instead of “Turn left on Highway 2.” This eliminates plenty of confusion. U.S. officials should do this. Imagine saying you are on I-285A, which is the Outer Loop, and would be called that all 360 degrees with no more deciphering your cardinal direction. News reports would be more accurate, as would driving directions.

5. Road Rage Non-Existent – Aruba’s slogan is “One Happy Island” and no place is that more true than on their roads. The high octane, fast-paced American society is frazzled, rushes place to place, and often turns into Incredible Hulk behind the wheel. Aruban drivers are different. I accidentally pulled out in front of a driver to turn left and nearly got wrecked. As I stopped and started backing up the lady in the oncoming car stopped and motioned me to finish my maneuver. As I passed, I mouthed, “I’m sorry!” She yelled out the window, “It’s okay, no problem!” and flashed a smile. If we learn anything from Aruba traffic behavior, we need to learn a little give and take and some forgiveness.


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Doug Turnbull

About Doug Turnbull

Doug has been an Atlanta traffic reporter and producer as part of WSB's award-winning team since 2004 and has been covering NASCAR the news team and since then, as well.

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