Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Newcomers: I-485 confusing enough for you?

My heart goes out to newcomers who have to use Interstate 485.

I’m a near-native who was in high school here when work began on the outerbelt in the late 1980s, and I still made a whopper of a mistake while driving it yesterday. I can only imagine how confusing it must be for first-time-drivers from other cities.

I was supposed to meet someone off the outerbelt’s exit 44, in the Union County community of Fairview. I had no idea where that particular exit was and just figured I couldn’t be too far off if I headed down 77, started in Pineville and worked my way east.

Wrong. I entered the outerbelt at exit 67- a full 23 miles away from my destination exit. I had to sheepishly call my appointment and say I’d be 25 minutes late. Since I was coming from near uptown, I would’ve been far better off heading to the loop via Independence Boulevard.

What makes me feel even more foolish is that as editor of the Living Here magazine, I oversaw the creation of an exit-by-exit map of the outerbelt (find it on page 101 of the magazine or click here for an interactive online version). I won’t be heading to any more unfamiliar destinations without checking it first.

Last week, when I met with a newcomer group, several members asked me about the confusing "inner" and "outer" designations for the directions on 485. Since it’s a loop, you can’t keep things straight if you try to use north, south, east and west, so you have to think of it like the face of a clock – "inner" is the clockwise direction, the lanes closest to uptown. It’s the way you’d go from University City to Matthews, for example. "Outer" is the counterclockwise direction, the lanes furthest from uptown, which you’d take from Steele Creek to Mint Hill for example.

Drivers, I’d like to hear from you. What do you think is the most confusing part of the 485 outerbelt? What’s your pet peeve about driving it (other than the rush-hour backups, of course)? What do you think should be done to improve it?

32 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't find it that confusing at all. It's the only 'real' highway we have around here.

10:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've ALWAYS wondered why "they" can't designate interstate loops, like our own I-485, as "Clockwise" and "Counter-clockwise" for directions ("CW" and "CCW"), rather than by compass.......east, west, north, south --- who knows when it's going around in a circle?? I guess the "Inner" & "Outer" labels make as much sense as anything once you understand the rationale.

While I'm ranting: why can'y they put Interstate signs at the exit roads back far enough so ya can safely plan for whether ya hafta be in the left lane or the right one to turn onto the entrance ramp? Usually, esp. at night, ya can't tell till you're practically on the overpass bridge to figure out which side of the road you hafta scoot over to.

12:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's all a matter of knowing where Uptown is. If you know where Uptown is in relation to where you are, you will never be lost in Charlotte.

This means you should study a map of the city for a bit. Once you can relate whether you are east, west, north, or south of Uptown, you can get anywhere.

This especially helps with 485

12:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Um, its just like any other city with a beltway...Have you ever traveled?

12:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

to 12:54 ---

yeah, of course I've travelled........but that doesn't change the fact that a circle is never truly going right or left (i.e. east or west), north or south, at any particular point.........have you never been confused by this in an unfamiliar city?

1:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just because you got on it at the wrong place doesn't make it confusing. You assumed something, and that assumption was wrong. Even more amazing since you've lived here so long. At least you didn't cause a wreck.

1:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe Indianapolis's "loop" 465 uses NESW directions. I don't recall people being confused by that as much as they are by the inner/outer loop designations in Charlotte and the Triangle. It could be that midwesterners are more used to navigating by the compass point, and southerners by some other innate homing ability to find the best sweet tea!

1:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

485 isn't confusing. It's just a big circle.

1:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ultimately, the problem is that a "highway loop" is a fundamentally foolish design. Instead of building highways that go to a particular destination (for instance, a bypass from I-77 south of Charlotte to I-85 west of the city), planning committees make arbitrary circles around a city to decide where the next big project will go. So you end up with roads that try to go everywhere and nowhere at once.

Of course, it's too late to reverse these decisions once they're made. Just another example of how foolish and artificial American development patterns have become. Our punishment comes in the form of badly-planned, congested highways with counterintuitive signage and no mechanism for improvement.

2:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've only been here for two years, and it's not confusing to me. Then again, I came from the Dallas/Fort Worth area, where they design highways just to be confusing. The hardest part of 485 is trying to explain to someone else how it works. I'd rather drive someone than have to explain the inner and outer loops for the third time to the same person...

3:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find the Outerbelt sexy ; And I wanted to say the OUTERBELT really needs to get finished ahead of everything else; People it has been 22 years since you started the I -485 shouldnt we be shamed .

6:55 PM  
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6:56 PM  
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6:57 PM  
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6:59 PM  
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7:01 PM  
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7:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They need to change the I-485 sign on I-85 near concord mills that says "ROCK HILL" to "MATTHEWS".... you know it's way faster to go 85 to 77 to get to Rock Hill than sit on 485..

8:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can tell which lane to be in before you approach an exit - all you have to do is look at the exit number on the top of the sign. If the number is on the left, it's a left hand exit; if it's on the right, it's a right hand exit. This is the standard for all interstates in the United States...

9:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd like to see the Inner/Outer designators become standard on circumferential highways throughout the United States, whether they're part of the Interstate System or not. I think that's a lot easier to deal with than the changes in direction typical to modern beltways.

That being said, I-485 isn't that difficult a road to deal with. Where I live, though, it's almost completely useless to me. It's easier for me to use the mainline interstates and other surface streets to get me where I need to go.

4:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am still puzzled why the designers of the 485 bottleneck it to two lanes in the busiest part of the commute. If NCDOT were to three lane all of 485, it would be a much more useful freeway, even without the northern section complete (when is that going to be done by the way?). I have to leave my house in Matthews at 6:00 a.m. to beat traffic to the west side of town and leave work NO LATER than 4:00. If I can't leave before 4:30, I might as well stay on the west side of town until 7 p.m. It actually took me an hour to go 10 miles last week. Guess what - it was because of the bottleneck. Did someone not pay attention in traffic design class?

6:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm just wondering when they are going to finish the highway!!

10:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I-485 isn't confusing, just needs to have update the sinage is all. There are a lot of signs that are just blank (like at I-77 South) or just generally bad (like "to Rock Hill" at the I-485 exit near Concord Mills). Put some money into fixing the signs, then people will be less confused.

10:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am still puzzled why the designers of the 485 bottleneck it to two lanes in the busiest part of the commute.

There is a simple answer to this question, which every single citizen of Charlotte ought to know:

The southern leg of I-485 was not supposed to be developed!

That's right -- what we now call Ballantyne was SUPPOSED to be undeveloped farmland and small neighborhoods. 485 in that area was supposed to be a bypass road cutting across southern Mecklenburg from Independence Blvd (Hwy 74) to I-85 on the west side. That way, people could easily get to the airport from the east side and goods could be quickly shipped to the interstate from Union County.

Instead, the city allowed the Harris family to ignore the plan and develop Ballantyne, which set off satellite developments such as Carolina Place and the Arboretum, which have forever crippled the highway. Make no mistake about it -- it will not be expanded for at least 20 years and by that time it will need to be at least 12 lanes to keep pace with development. That kind of money simply doesn't exist (remember, it has to come from the feds, who are not keen on supporting cities that ignore development plans) and will not be allocated anytime soon. At best it will be expanded to 4 or 5 lanes in each direction, which is nothing but a band-aid.

This is what happens when developers are allowed to have free reign over a city. Charlotte desperately needs to learn this lesson before it is too late; already we have lost our historic core to demolition, allowed the southern part of the county to be crippled by overexpansion, and seen the east and north sides becoming a sprawling ghetto... all because the city doesn't have the gumption to enforce reasonable zoning laws! Change needs to start NOW, while we still have a place decent enough to call home!

8:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would you rather have 485 labeled North, East, South, and West?

That doesn't work either. There are 2 of each of those on 485. The inner belt has a N, E, S, & W section and the Outer has S, W, N, & W section. HOWEVER, they are at opposite sides of the belt.

I REALLY like Inner and Outer. I've liked those labels since the day I saw it on Raleigh's beltline.

It makes perfectly good sense. As soon as someone says "Take the Inner 485," I know exactly where "downdown" is!

9:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Best inversion I ever made..bought a GPS when I got here the moment I saw that 485 outer goes east at a particular exit..turned around to the inner and the signs said south..

We ain't in Kansas anymore,Toto

10:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok - how about an option that covers EVERYONE. Label I-485 with BOTH North/East/South/West AND Inner/Outer, that way everyone is covered. If you like Inner/Outer, it's there. If you like N/E/S/W, it's there.

N/E/S/W is standard on almost all, if not all, FULL bypasses in the country (Go to DC or Baltimore). Inner/Outer is not. So, most people don't know what this means. And - aren't signs generally for people NOT familiar with the area, which means they should be designed for people that ARENT' familiar with the inner/outer terminology?

And...as someone that's visited a cith that I was not familiar with, with only Inner/Outer terminology(Raleigh, years), it did not help. Because I didn't know for sure where I was (i.e. north side, west side, south side), I didn't know whether I should take inner or outer. But, I know I needed to go north, but the sign had no compas direction.

11:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The most annoying thing about I-485? "Inner" and "Outer". Raleigh learned the mistakes years ago of only signing inner and outer - it was more confusing than less confusing. When you don't know where you are at, how do you know which direction to go? Does inner go north, or south? Well, it depends - are you on the west side, or east side? All inner/outer tells me is I'm going in a circle clock wise, or in a circle counter clockwise. But, depending on where I'm at, it would still be nice for it to tell me which direction I'm going.

11:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I completely agree with the person that posted the signs should be moved farther back from the interchange. It is SO frustrating to find out at the last second I need to cross over 1-3 lanes of traffic to get in another lane for the ramp - because there was no sign before that said which lane to be in. Can't they put signs at EVERY interchange that says what lane to be in for each direction? And put them far enough in advance that you can safely get in the lane BEFORE the interchange?

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9:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone notice that it is no circle at all? I believe for it to be a circle, it has to be a line with no end points. Anyone try to get from Concord to Old Statesville Road? You will find end points. They should just call it "if you are coming from concord" and "if you are coming from Old Statesville Road"

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