Nick’s Blog

On The Road

Nearly one less biker

by Nick on Mar.05, 2010, under On The Road

Actually the title suggests I think that would be a good thing. Not in the least bit but I’m prepared to make an exception in this case. (continue reading…)

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Big brother is watching you even more closely

by Nick on Feb.01, 2010, under On The Road

In 2012 the Dutch government hopes that all car drivers will be forced to fit a little box to their cars. This GPS equipped box will apparently record every movement that the car makes and report generalised data back to government HQ. At this stage the technical details of this generalised data are rather sketchy but I suppose, in principle, if the spy box is forced to report only that you travelled 40Km in rush hour along an A class road during the month of December then I’d probably be happier. But this does not quite square with the other claims I’ve heard. (continue reading…)

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Big brother is watching us

by Nick on Dec.03, 2009, under On The Road

Every morning I travel along the A4 to work and every evening back again. I try to travel really early (before 7am) to avoid the rush hour. A few days ago we received a letter at home saying they had been monitoring the road and could I fill in a form asking about my journey. My reaction to this is scepticism, on the face of this it is just a survey to find out when and why people are travelling. But frankly my problem with this is as follows.

There are two ways to ease congestion, one is to make sure the roads are wide enough to cope with everyone that wants to use the road. If this is the case then you do not need to know why someone is travelling, all you need to do is look at the road and get an idea of how much traffic is using the road and how much more room will be needed to allow the traffic to flow freely. Of course if you make a road wider then more people will be inclined to use it and often that will mean widening again.

The other way to reduce congestion is to tax people off the road so that only those with deep pockets or a desperate need can use the roads. Schemes in the UK have shown that this works nicely and if the money were ploughed into the infrastructure of public transport then I think I’d be OK with this. The government here in the Netherlands are now introducing something called rekeningrijden. What it means is you pay for every kilometre you travel and then you pay extra round some of the bigger cities to travel in the rush hour.

A way to look at this is that those with the ability to pay will have the roads cleared of troublesome poor people so they can get to work more quickly. Well I have another idea, perhaps you could have a tariff that is directly proportional to the environmental impact of the vehicle.  The more polluting vehicles will pay more while the smaller cleaner vehicles will perhaps even go free. This alone would clear out some of the larger polluters (the ones most people want to see off the road) but I’d go further. Buying your access to the road would be in the form of a smart card that gives you so much credit. You are not allowed to top up the card beyond a certain limit.  For a small clean vehicle this limit might be enough to do a months travel round town but for larger vehicle it might mean topping up two or three times a week. So for those that travel huge distances in large vehicles they might even find themselves having to stop in while filling up with petrol to top up the card. Naturally there might have to be some exceptions such as for buses and goods vehicles but not for lease cars.

So back to my survey. Why do they need to know the purpose of my journey? Well I’m guessing that they are wanting to know if the morning rush hour has started. How would you define that? Well if everyone (or the majority of people) travelling at a particular time are doing so for work then it must be the rush hour yes? This would then allow the government to say “Ha, Mr Askew, you were travelling in the rush hour so come on pay up.”. It will not matter when I travel, the fact that I am travelling for work means as long as enough other people are then it is the rush hour. So frankly what business is it of the government why I am travelling. There job is to provide an infrastructure that allows us to live and not simply impose another scheme that hands to those that have at the expense of the have nots.

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by Nick on Nov.15, 2009, under On The Road

A little while ago I was driving along towards a roundabout. I was going at a fair but actually legal pace. There was a car on the roundabout and it was my plan to drop in behind him as he went past. However I noticed that there was a van on the roundabout behind him so realised I’d have to stop and began to slow. The car driver saw me and clearly panicked believing that I was about to try to enter the roundabout ahead of him. He slammed on the breaks and brought his car to a complete halt on the roundabout right in front of me. He could not have aligned his has better for a side on collision even if he had tried. By this time my car was no longer moving and the van driver managed to avoid slamming into the back of him too.

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by Nick on Nov.15, 2009, under On The Road

On the A4 north there is a stretch of road that is 5 lanes wide but at the weekend and off peak times the 5th lane is closed. I have no idea why, perhaps they hope it will not wear out as quickly or more likely they feel that bunching people into 4 lanes will keep them moving more slowly. So I was driving along slightly above the speed limit possibly (I think 125 km/h instead of 120 km/h) in the 4th lane and gradually overtaking someone in the 3rd lane. My progress past this person was not quick but as I was already at (or possibly above) the speed limit I was happy to tootle along. Then suddenly I noticed some guy behind me clearly in a hurry, flashing hit lights at me.

So to recap. To my right was another car, to my left was a perfectly empty lane with a few red X’s above saying it was closed. And behind was some idiot who had decided that ignoring the speed limit was perfectly OK with him but ignoring a couple of red X’s was simply out of the question. So behind me he remained until I was able to pull into the third lane. To complete the manoeuvre he put his foot to the floor and blasted his horn at me.

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by Nick on Nov.15, 2009, under On The Road

Just recently I was driving along a stretch of road near home. It’s one of those pieces of road that the local bureaucrats cannot quite decide the appropriate speed limit for. It has been set at 50 km/h even though it is really out of town and could easily be set at 80km/h. It has no cycle track or pavement and there are no buildings along it. But, having seen that it is a favourite haunt of police officers looking to up there end of year tariff (I used to work for the Police), I tend to keep to around 50-60 km/h.

In the middle of this particular stretch of road there is a roundabout. The roundabout has two lanes divided by raised ridges but the right hand lane is really meant for turning right and the left hand lane for straight on.  It is possible to use the right hand lane to get past slow moving traffic and I’ve done this myself. However once you have passed the traffic you are overtaking (or rather undertaking) you have to merge in and it is that traffic you have overtaken that has priority. So it is possible that you might not be able to get in if you are not far enough ahead.

Well a few days ago I was driving behind a slowish column of traffic but using the left had lane of the roundabout. I noticed that someone behind us had lost patience and tried his luck with the alternate route. He arrive at the merge point at the same time as me and I was not in particularly generous mood and he could not be bothered to indicate so I did not let him in. However the side of his Mercedes (OK there might have been some envy involved) was clearly getting quite close to my little Swift but I made it through much to his disgust. He let me know his feelings using the power of his horn.

Clearly he believed that having overtaken a column of traffic, all stuck behind the same vehicle that he had some right to simply claim a place nearer the front of the queue. To me that is the ultimate arrogance. Sure, if your car is powerful enough and you can overtake then go ahead but don’t expect that roads to open up for you (in some biblical way) just because you hope it will. Those of us at the front of the queue also have places to go so if you cannot complete the manoeuvre then I’d suggest not starting it.

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On the road

by Nick on Nov.15, 2009, under On The Road

This section is dedicated to those little things that happen on the road that irritate or amuse me. Let me start with my opinion on speed cameras. Because of my in built need for equality and justice on the road I am actually quite eager to see safe limits being enforced. That does not mean that I agree that the speed limit as set on each stretch of road is always actually the safest limit. I would have thought that the people who set the limit have tried to choose a compromise that reduces the risk of injury while still allowing people to get where they are going. But that compromise means that there are times when the posted limit is wrong, a stretch of road that is safe on a clear summers day at 80 km/h may not be safe at the same speed during a heavy downpour or in icy conditions. Equally there will be roads that are safe if you drive 100 km/h during rush hour but could still be safe doing 140 km/h in the middle of the night. So a dumb speed camera that does not take these things into account is too blunt an instrument to be effective.

So why not do something about dynamic speed limits. To some extent the French have had this for years. Anyone who has driven in France will know that some roads have different speed limits posted for wet and dry conditions. Major roads around the Netherlands have signs above them warning us of upcoming traffic problems and will slow us down so that we do not suddenly come across stationary traffic, and yet these same systems are not used to raise the limit when that might be safe.

So assuming we can make the speed limit appropriate for the conditions I am actually all in favour of speed cameras. I am certainly in favour of cameras around towns and especially in the regions around schools. When the schools are open I’d be all in favour of reducing the speed limit to 30km/h and enforcing that with a camera.

Only yesterday I was talking to friends who said that apparently the reason speed cameras are now visible is because someone took someone else to court (presumably a pissed off driver took the police or local authority to court) because they could not see the cameras. Well presumably they could read the signs saying what the speed limit was so where is the problem? In the Netherlands they have to mark stretches of roads that are covered by average speed sensors. Why? Surely if you are obeying the speed limit you should feel safe in the knowledge that you will not get a ticket. If you do exceed the limit then receiving a bill in the post a few days later is entirely your own fault.

I am at the moment waiting for a bill myself. They put a sneaky camera built into a van on a stretch of road where 80 is allowed and for the first time in ages I decided to push it a little that day. But I don’t blame the police or even the guy that overtook me and made me feel like going a little faster. No the only person responsible for my exceeding the speed limit was me. And if I get a fine because of it well then that’s my own problem. That said I will say it is a long straight country lane with no houses directly off it so perhaps this is an example of a place where the limit could be raised, but it wasn’t.

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