By Mark van Engeland

A road by yet another name...

Since last week's article I have been informed that a junction similar to the dreaded Marconiplein; about a mile away from that terrible place; was indeed converted into a roundabout; so I went to take a look, but couldn't find it.
It turns out that it has been converted back to traffic lights, because; far from making traffic flow more smoothly; it was causing havoc with all the accidents which took place involving first-time roundabout users.
I can just imagine one of those users now...

<Dutch storytelling mode on>

    Hmm.  They have made junction into a round road.  Very nice, very pretty, O ja.
    Hey!  What thinks stupid English truck-driver that he is doing???
    O, shit.  There goes my no-claims bonus.

<Dutch storytelling mode off>

A couple of smaller roundabouts have been pointed out to me (one that I had actually used a few times, without even noting it, is on the non-motorway route to Delft) and they seem to work fine.  It must be that when they get above a certain size, people panic.  I suppose if they slammed a big one in at Marconiplein, Dutch drivers would approach the junction with the same misgivings (read: Terror!) that I do, now.

A word or two about the history of the roundabout:
In England, we were lucky.
Very early in this era of motor transport, we Britons caught on to the idea that the traffic-island, or roundabout, is the most efficient method of dealing with a road junction.  We therefore build them everywhere we think there might be congestion; and, in most cases, they prevent that congestion from happening.  The reason they function better than other forms of junction is very simple: other types of junction are based on making traffic stop, whilst the roundabout works by keeping traffic moving.
Because we had them right from the start, everyone in Britain has grown up understanding how they work.  Trying to install them in countries where they have never been seen before leads to chaos.  People with fifty years of accident-free driving under their belt are almost guaranteed to get their first ding on a roundabout.  It is not easy to ignore years of experience of giving way to one side, just because you're going around in a circle; but the roundabout only works by making drivers give way to the wrong side.
There are exceptions, of course -- roundabouts which don't work.  A classic example of this is the Five Ways Island, in Edgbaston (where the cricket comes from).
Some arty-farty civic architect decided that office workers in Edgbaston would like a nice little park in the middle of the roundabout -- with benches, trees, landscaping, and asthmatic birdies -- where they could eat their lunches.
To make space for this Elysian field, he had to cut the roundabout down to a three-lane affair.
Five dual carriageways feed the Five Ways Island (he had an almost magical touch with naming conventions, too!); that's ten lanes of traffic, feeding a three-lane roundabout.  You figure it out.
Drivers go thirty miles out of their way, rather than get caught in the permanent, standing Five Ways Island traffic jam.
Oh, and no-one eats their lunch in the silly prune's little 'oasis', either.  People prefer to be able to do things like breathe and hear themselves think, whilst eating.

The point of giving way on a roundabout leads on nicely to the next topic:  Dutch rules of precedence.

Here we're on a subject that really gets my goat!
The same insane rule applies here that they have in France -- on a straight road, drivers must give way to cars which are entering the road from the right.
What complete lunatic came up with that idea?
I mean, having a rule like that in France is one thing; but the Dutch are intelligent people!  What on Earth incited them to adopt it?
This is how it works:
You're tootling along a city road at a nice, safe thirty miles an hour (or fifty kilometres an hour, whatever); but every time you see a junction, you have to give way if there is a car trying to enter the road in front of you.
This means that on a half-mile long, straight road, you may have to stop anything up to a dozen times; so that cars can jump onto the road and slowly, slowly get up to speed (0-30 in about six hours, normally).
What possible function does it serve to have the flow of traffic stop, just so that Grandma can get onto the road in front of the cars which are already on the road?
Were there not enough traffic jams, so they had to invent rules which would create them?
The worst of it is that if the road which is entering from the right has sharks' teeth at the end of it, then they don't have precedence.  If you think that makes things any better, you're wrong.
The effect of that is that you have to have X-ray vision, to see through parked cars, pedestrians, etc.; otherwise you can't tell if the cross-traffic has got right of way, or if it has to give way to you.
Add to that the minor detail that every side-road also has the double line of big, painted squares for the bicycles, and any other lines and symbols that Mr. van Picasso of the road-marking department decided should be painted at junctions, and you end up with neck-ache from craning to see if you're allowed to keep going, or if you have to brake like a nutter to let Granny out!
The only truly functional solution would be to adopt a drive-by-wire system, where you would have a spotter plane in the air -- preferably a Harrier vertical take-off and hover type, because other jets tend to go a little faster than I drive -- painting lasers on the junctions you have to give way to; then have a sensor array built onto the roof of your car to detect the lasers, and a surface-to-surface rocket pod -- to blow Granny into smithereens if she tries to enter when she's supposed to be giving way!
To whom do I write about this?  Which tin-pot city official is in charge of such things?
I'm extremely good at writing to official bodies...

<Draft letter to traffic department Start>

    Dear Sir,

        You are a complete bleeding idiot.

    Mark v.E.

<Draft letter to traffic department End>

Let's move on to a happier subject.

The Strippenkaart.

Now, I'm a great lover of common sense and logic; and I have yet to come across a more sensible, logical way of handling fare-collection for public transport than the strippenkaart.
It's really, really cheap to administer; really, really cheap to buy; and really, really easy to use -- once you get the hang of it.  If you want to see what one looks like, I've dropped a scan of my latest one Here (this will open in a separate window, so you can re-size it to fit down the side of this page as you read about them).
A lot of non-Dutch folk have trouble understanding and using strippenkaarts, so it's worth going into them in some detail -- Italians often can't seem to get their heads around them, for example; because the concept is too radically different to what they are used to.
Incidentally, if you want some fun, try catching a train which goes to Napoli, but getting off at Roma.
Talk about animals!
Imagine a thousand Neopolitans, all foaming at the mouth, trying to force their way onto the train in time to get seats -- running across the rails to climb through windows on the wrong side of the train, etc..  You are very lucky if you manage to go against this tide, and get off the train.
I'd never seen anything like it; and the people I was with were soooooo embarrassed; but it was hardly their fault.  Every country has its animals.  The British ones go to football matches; the Italian ones catch trains to Napoli; and the American ones all own lots of guns.  I've yet to run across the Dutch 'animal contingent', but I suppose they're all too stoned to cause much trouble.
Anyway, the strippenkaart.  What are we looking at?
The first thing to notice is the price.  That's at the top, where it says 'f12'.
'f' stands for 'florins', which is pronounced 'guilders' (gotta love those Dutch!).
Twelve guilders is about four pounds, Sterling, or seven US$.  There are also larger, double-sided strippenkaart; but I don't use public transport all that much (I'm not Dutch enough, yet), so I just buy the small ones.
Just below the price banner, there is a row of numbers.  These numbers are extremely important -- but I haven't a clue what they mean nor represent, so we'll just skip on down.
Next comes the meat.  The rest of the card is split into strips, each strip representing a 'zone'.
You use the kaart on buses, trams, and underground trains (the Metro) by folding it at the appropriate strip, and pushing it into a franking machine (although on some buses, the bus driver will stamp them manually).
Simple as pi, no?  It's a strip of tickets, which you can use for lots of rides on public transport.
Keep that simplicity in your head.  It's easy to get confused, so lots of people do.
The tricky bit is in deciding how many of the strips to fold under, before you frank the card (kaart = card, by the way; in case you hadn't figured it out).
Ok.  Nutshell version.
Getting onto a tram, train or bus will cost you one strip.  Call it the 'embarkation cost'.
If you want to go anywhere, once you have boarded, it will cost you more strips -- one for travelling within the zone you are in, and one for each zone line you will cross in reaching your destination.
This means that the minimum number of strips you can frank is two -- one for getting on, and one for going somewhere nearby.
The reason that I have franked the top strip on the scanned kaart is that it continues from my previous one -- i.e. I franked the last two strips on my old kaart, and the first on this new one; totalling three strips.
There are zone maps at all Metro stations, and you can always ask the tram or bus driver how many to frank; so there is nothing hard about it -- just remember that!  There Is Nothing Hard About It!
The next good part is the time-stamp.  The top frank on my scanned strippenkaart is time-stamped '0945'.  That is the time (to the next quarter-hour) that I got onto the tram, in this case.
Had this been my outward journey (it wasn't), and I had managed to a) complete whatever business the journey was for, b) catch a return tram/train/bus home, and c) debark the return tram/train/bus by 1045; then I would not have had to frank any more strips.
Got that?  If the entire excursion takes less than an hour, the return trip is free.
A couple of times, when I've caught the train through to Rotterdam from... dramatic pause... Marconiplein Metro Station, I've managed to be back at Marconiplein within the hour, so the whole trips only cost me two strips each -- that's around sixty pence, Sterling, or one US$.  Can't say fairer than that!

Hell's Bells!  I've gone way over my column allowance again!  I shall have to learn how not to ramble on so much.

Next time, we'll be looking at shopping, food, and (if I can fit it in; but you know what I'm like, once I get started) more on bicycles!


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