One of the things that I found immensely enjoyable about being in the United States recently, was doing something which practically everyone seemed to hate because they had been inoculated against it; that something was driving on the freeway. Be they California state highways or the Interstate, driving on an American freeway is an immensely pleasurable and satisfying experience.
I could state the well worn and hackneyed phrases to do with freedom and or speed and what not but I know that the reason why I love America's freeways is something far more mundane than that. It isn't the wide ten lanes of disciplined and orderly traffic and it isn't the very gentle curves which mankind has willed upon the landscape. No. The biggest reason why I love America's freeways, is its road furniture.
I love Britain's blue motorway signs and it's brown signs which tell you when something of historical import is close by. I love the blue signs of the German autobahn, upon which they and indeed the rest of Europe's motorway signs were based. America's freeway signs are something else entirely though; they are boldly and assuredly different.
The Interstate Shield is itself an icon. Maybe it drew inspiration from the existing US Highway Shields which began to appear before the Second World War but even if it did, it stamped its authority down with confidence.
The Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways came into the world in 1956; in a unique period of history when two superpowers were entwined in a strange dance which involved an arms race for nuclear weapons. Both countries possessed enough power to blow civilisation off the planet and kill every single living thing within hours.
With dreams of rockets and the jet age whizzing through people's heads, in an act which borders outright corruption, the ex-President of General Motors, Charles Erwin Wilson, was able to convince President Eisenhower that America needed a system of interstate freeways to move troops and supplies around in a hurry, just in case either the Russians or even themselves should be the bringer of nuclear fire upon the world. Eisenhower agreed and Congress approved the construction of the single biggest public works program in the history of humanity. Don't like socialism? Well right there - bam! More socialism than the world has ever seen.
In branding their new multi billion dollar baby, the Interstate was given a very American red, blue and white shield. This gives the Interstate an almost patriotic look about it. If is an American thing to do, to be driving down the Interstate.
There's a second and more practical reason why I love American freeways and that is that they are properly signposted. For every exit, there are ample warnings before it comes up. There are also arrows which inform you of how many lanes there are available.
The latter of this is absolutely unheard of in Australia. Instances where there might be two whole lanes for an exit, are rarer than hen's teeth. In America though, having two lanes is common and even three is not unheard of. Not even on the Light Horse Interchange in Sydney's west which connects the M4 and the M7 and which is the largest motorway interchange in the southern hemisphere, are there anything other than single lane slip roads to connect the two motorways.
On top of this, there are signs which indicate which direction you are going on an expressway. Signs will actually display useful information like 163-South, 5-North, 94-East and 54-West. Again, nothing like this exists at all in Australia. If you do happen to approach a freeway on ramp in Australia, there will be a sign which has the route number and where its going and that will be it. Hard luck to you if you know you need to be heading North but the sign only says "Richmond".
Interstates generally are well signposted across America. A really helpful thing about the Interstate system is that the north-south highways are all odd numbered and east-west highways are all even numbered, and that spurs off of highways are numbered with a prefix number. Interstate 805 in the picture above is a spur of Interstate 05 (all interstates for the purposes of the act are two digits).
In addition to this, there are trailblazer signs and route confirmation markers everywhere. This means that someone could use the Interstate and know with confidence where they were going, even if they'd been on a plane for 19 hours.
Confident, informative, helpful, patriotic: these are words which describe the road furniture of the American Interstate Highway System. I think that its one of the icons of America; even though most Americans and especially if they are stuck in slow moving traffic, are oblivious to.