253: Highway Engineer Pranks

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Highway Engineer Pranks
Prank #11: Boston
Title text: Prank #11: Boston


Some classical but inaccurate interchanges are shown. In general, these interchanges are designed to allow the traffic to flow without directly crossing any other traffic stream. But here we can see some different approaches:

  • The first design resembles a cloverleaf interchange, but has no way to merge back onto the highway once you enter it, making it inescapable.
  • The second interchange has off-ramps that you would normally use to change to the other highway, but in this design they simply merge back to the original highway, so you don't really have a choice in where to go. This is sometimes seen on real freeways where one lane must go around an obstacle such as a bridge support.

In the title text, Boston is mentioned, a slightly more complicated prank in itself. A common fiction is that the streets evolved from old cowpaths, but in the 17th century, they avoided swamps and marshes and followed shorelines before the original peninsula comprising the city was expanded with landfill in the 19th century. Boston's road infrastructure in general lacks a street grid like most other US cities have. On top of that, roads change names and lose and add lanes seemingly at random. Randall himself lives in Boston.

Highway engineers were also the subject of 781: Ahead Stop, 1726: Unicode and 2728: Lane Change Highway.


[Each panel depicts a highway intersection.]
The Inescapable Cloverleaf:
[Roads lead onto the rings for each leaf, but then are trapped in the circles. Minor roads also allow travel between the rings.]
The Zero-Choice Interchange:
[On- and off-ramps exist, but they lead back to the same lane they disconnected from.]
The Rotary Supercollider:
[The roads lead into a traffic circle, and then a loop reverses the direction of flow so all the roads run into each other.]

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The US-67 @ IH-20 interchange in Dallas has sort of a zero-choice interchange: If you're not already on the highway, attempting to get on the highway will take you beyond the interchange. It's a mess. 05:38, 14 December 2014 (UTC)

That's not a bug, it's a feature! On-ramps within a mile or so of a major junction are the main cause for a lot of junction backups, as the paths of people limited to one lane (and slowing down) intersect with those trying to pass through and merge into 60+mph traffic. 12:04, 27 May 2016 (UTC)

From a European point of view, Boston does have a rather uniform street grid, it's not comparable to the traffic difficulties you'll get in major European cities like London, Paris, Rome, Berlin or Brussels. For many of those cities, the inner town just has to be avoided in a car. -- 23:56, 10 January 2015 (UTC)

Prank 61: Canberra. 05:27, 3 February 2015 (UTC)

what? oh yeah - the driving on the wrong side of the road thing - that would get confusing... but seriously, it's... interesting from what I can tell by Google Maps' representation of it - assuming I could discount the side of the road I'm on, and if I get a good look at the map before going out, I don't think it looks that bad. Brettpeirce (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
It's not driving on the OTHER side of the road that's the issue, it just a sort of running joke with many non-Canberran Australians visiting Canberra and complaining about the (relatively large) number of roundabouts in the city. Even Parliament House is built on a massive roundabout.-Pennpenn 03:26, 30 March 2015 (UTC)
In which case, I propose Prank #62 would be Carmel, Indiana, for the sheer number of roundabouts there compared to the rest of the USA. (Edited to add: Probably a small amount compared to a number of cities in Europe, but you just don't see the modern roundabout get much love in the USA. I think the residual hatred of traffic circles/rotaries is the main factor here, with general unfamiliarity playing a major role as well.) MarsJenkar (talk) 04:59, 27 September 2020 (UTC)

The Supercollider has a stylized "S" inscribed in a circle, as if a logo. Mountain Hikes (talk) 13:58, 25 September 2015 (UTC)

You know, if you had an inescapable overleaf, but you had a road that got people off it and back onto one of the roads they originally wanted to go on, but on it, there was a toll booth, you could make a lot of money. -Anonymous

Prank #302: Letting Camodo Gaming design a city. 21:53, 18 March 2022 (UTC)

cloverleaf shaped like a command logo on a macbook (talk) 01:14, 23 November 2022 (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Question or statement?
Not entirely, though, or at least not sufficiently exact to make it a definite reference/inspiration. Even ignoring the main roads crossing through it, the roundabouts ought to be ¾ arcs only before leading into (and from) the transfer straights. 03:39, 23 November 2022 (UTC)