Video: New Mexico's singing road

Hope you're ready for some slow-paced fun. Image: KRQE.

Traffic management isn't usually a very friendly business. Signs in stark Helvetica instruct you when to stop, go, and turn; and ocassionally flash at you if you're going too fast. In New Mexico, however, one road is operating a more reward-based approach to speed limits. 

A line of "rumble strips" were installed on a street betwen Alberquerque and Tijeras earlier this month. When motorists drive over the strips at the correct speed (45mph), metal plates under the tarmac vibrate, producing music. The result is something that sounds like a trombone slowly puffing out "America the Beautiful". Now that's worth slowing down for.   

This video shows the road in action (the music starts around 15 seconds in): 


According to ABC news, the musical road was actually paid for by the National Geographic channel, as part of a new series about street experiments designed to "curate social behaviour".

There are six other singing roads in the world, all of which use fluctuations in the road (bumps, grooves or rumble strips) to produce sound. Here they are, along with their track choices: 

1. The Asphaltophone, Gylling, Denmark

This, constructed in 1995, was the world's first musical road. The road doesn't play a full piece - just a few chord sounds - but it has the best name of the lot. 

2. The Melody Roads, Japan (in Hokkaido, Wakayama and Gunma)

Each of these short strips of musical road in Japan plays 30 second clips of Japanese ballads. A cluster of giant music notes on the road warns drivers that they're approaching a singing section. 

3. Singing Road, Anyang, South Korea

According to official figures, around 68 per cent of trafffic accidents in South Korea take place because drivers are intattentive or asleep at the wheel. Singing roads both blare noise at drivers and force them to pay attention to keep the melody going, so could act as a solution to this problem. However, South Korea's singing road plays "Mary had a little Lamb" - probably not the best choice to keep drivers awake at the wheel. 

4. Civic Musical Road, Lancaster, California

California's musical road was installed for a Honda advert in 2007, but the city decided to keep it. The melody of choice here is a horribly tuneless version of the William Tell Overture. 


Here’s a fantasy metro network for Birmingham & the West Midlands

Birmingham New Street. Image: Getty.

Another reader writes in with their fantasy transport plans for their city. This week, we’re off to Birmingham…

I’ve read with interest CityMetric’s previous discussion on Birmingham’s poor commuter service frequency and desire for a “Crossrail” (here and here). So I thought I’d get involved, but from a different angle.

There’s a whole range of local issues to throw into the mix before getting the fantasy metro crayons out. Birmingham New Street is shooting up the passenger usage rankings, but sadly its performance isn’t, with nearly half of trains in the evening rush hour between 5pm and 8pm five minutes or more late or even cancelled. This makes connecting through New Street a hit and, mainly, miss affair, which anyone who values their commuting sanity will avoid completely. No wonder us Brummies drive everywhere.

There are seven local station reopening on the cards, which have been given a helping hand by a pro-rail mayor. But while these are super on their own, each one alone struggles to get enough traffic to justify a frequent service (which is key for commuters); or the wider investment needed elsewhere to free up more timetable slots, which is why the forgotten cousin of freight gets pushed even deeper into the night, in turn giving engineering work nowhere to go at all.

Suburban rail is the less exciting cousin of cross country rail. But at present there’s nobody to “mind the gap” between regional cross-country focussed rail strategy , and the bus/tram orientated planning of individual councils. (Incidentally, the next Midland Metro extension, from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill, is expected to cost £450m for just 11km of tram. Ouch.)

So given all that, I decided to go down a less glamorous angle than a Birmingham Crossrail, and design a Birmingham  & Black Country Overground. Like the London Overground, I’ve tried to join up what we’ve already got into a more coherent service and make a distinct “line” out of it.

Click to expand. 

With our industrial heritage there are a selection of old alignments to run down, which would bring a suburban service right into the heart of the communities it needs to serve, rather than creating a whole string of “park & rides” on the periphery. Throw in another 24km of completely new line to close up the gaps and I’ve run a complete ring of railway all the way around Birmingham and the Black Country, joining up with HS2 & the airport for good measure – without too much carnage by the way of development to work around/through/over/under.

Click to expand. 

While going around with a big circle on the outside, I found a smaller circle inside the city where the tracks already exist, and by re-creating a number of old stations I managed to get within 800m of two major hospitals. The route also runs right under the Birmingham Arena (formerly the NIA), fixing the stunning late 1980s planning error of building a 16,000 capacity arena right in the heart of a city centre, over the railway line, but without a station. (It does have two big car parks instead: lovely at 10pm when a concert kicks out, gridlocks really nicely.)

From that redraw the local network map and ended up with...

Click to expand. 

Compare this with the current broadly hub-and-spoke network, and suddenly you’ve opened up a lot more local journey possibilities which you’d have otherwise have had to go through New Street to make. (Or, in reality, drive.) Yours for a mere snip at £3bn.

If you want to read more, there are detailed plans and discussion here (signup required).