Bhutan’s Long and (really) Winding Roads
John Balz, of the Nudge blog, visited the Kingdom of Bhutan last year. In traffic terms, Bhutan is rather famous for being among the only — indeed perhaps the only — country without a traffic signal (it’s also the first non-smoking nation). Apparently a set was brought in at this busy junction, but eventually removed after public complaint.
I haven’t done a ton of traveling, but I’d never experienced a place with such winding roads. I don’t think there was ever a stretch of road that was straight for more than a few bus lengths. One day I decided I wanted to graphically plot just how curvy Bhutan’s road were. I got out my watch and counted the number of turns per minute over one 8 hour drive. Traffic is pretty light so counting turns per minute was easier than counting turns per mile. I was with other people on this trip, and I basically asked them to leave me alone for the day and let me count.
Here is the graphic result of his voyage — a bell curve, if you will — which averaged about a turn every eight seconds of driving:
And here’s another way of looking at it:
I’m not sure if this makes Bhutan the world’s curviest country or not (and I’d be curious to see a graphic representation of the opposite experience, say, driving in rural North Dakota, where the Jeffersonian-derived-grid dominates the road network). Safetywise, Bhutan clearly needs some work, as this Japanese report noted: “The crash fatality rate in 2005 was 15.4 deaths per 10,000 vehicles per year, which is considered significantly high.” There does seem to be some effort to reduce curves in the mountains. Though options may be limited, in part due to ongoing tectonics, according to this source:
Would concrete roads instead of asphalt make things better?
The answer, in case you’re wondering, is no.
First of all, the department’s chief engineer explained, it would be very expensive for the government. Secondly, the terrain is not stable or, in geological speak, “matured” enough for us to build long stretches of concrete road.
“Unlike in the west where the geographical conditions are more stable our young mountains and terrains are in a continuous process of change and will not allow concrete highways,” Tshering Wangdi B. says. “A little defect in one section of the concrete highway will necessitate a redoing of the whole concrete highway. The government will incur very huge expenditure.”
Lastly, Balz notes that despite the stripes in the above picture, the road “was not a full two lanes.”
(images by John Balz)
This entry was posted on Thursday, November 12th, 2009 at 11:12 am and is filed under Traffic safety, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.