Monday, March 31, 2014


When I was growing up, we had a cloverleaf on the local highway. Actually, attaching four local highways—Route 208, Route 4, Route 17 and Route 3. It was known statewide, and perhaps nationwide, for being one of the most dangerous intersections anywhere. Eventually, I think while I was in college, they redesigned it into some massive set of overpasses, making it more modern and much more safe.

While I applaud safety, I do think it took away a bit of New Jersey flavor.

It classified the shoppers. In order to get to the mall, one had to use the cloverleaf (unless you were using the back roads). You had to want to do some pretty serious shopping in order to be willing to risk you life on the merge of any of those ovals in order to pull into the mall parking lot. You could see the look of pride and accomplishment on those shoppers who made it, and the green tinge of the newbies, as they exited their cars. And finding a parking space? No one was going to mess with any of the drivers, knowing how they’d actually gotten there.

It was a driver’s rite of passage. Just like learning to drive a stick shift on hills, no driver in Bergen County could consider their driver’s ed complete without learning how to navigate the cloverleaf. If you were brave enough to look at the other driver’s faces as you circled and merged left and right almost simultaneously, you could see the looks of horror on the newbie driver’s faces (and their accompanying parent), compared to the looks of confidence on the more experienced drivers. It was easier to spot the new drivers than that ridiculous red sticker they put on license plates now.

It taught you math and physics. In order to survive the cloverleaf, you had to master speed and turns and merges. You needed to know exactly how slowly to drive on the curves so you wouldn’t spin off the edge, while being able to speed up appropriately on the highways—have you seen how fast people drive there—in order to not be crushed. You had to calculate how fast the cars coming at you were going, so you could slip in between them for a few feet, before moving over and going back onto the cloverleaf again. One wrong calculation and you got mushed. It was a bit like Darwin, for drivers.

So fill those potholes, fix those traffic nightmares, and add those traffic lights and extra caution lights. Whatever you think you need now to make things safer for drivers. Just try to leave a little bit of the flavor for those of us who remember the cloverleaf.


  1. omg. the cloverleaf. i remember it! but we don't talk about them that way anymore even when new roads sort of look like that. loved this!

  2. I'm British and a non-driver, and from those points of view I have no clue what you're talking about. The writer in me can see all sorts of possibilities! Smiles.

    1. I don't know how to explain it, other than it required a lot of merging with fast cars.