The first thing that struck me when I landed at Schiphol Airport, six years ago, was the habit of the Dutch to respect the speed limits. Anna, my wife, for example never exceeds 50 km p/h, which is the limit on local roads. After a while I realized that, even here, the roads are managed by the provinces and are divided into N, A, E, etc. This habit of her (and the Dutch in general) certainly comes from a strong civic sense, but also due to the fact that the roads in question are an infinity of monitoring equipment. The same counts for road signs, which are often placed in opposition to one another… But let’s see if I can give some clarity.
N Provincial Roads
In North Holland, Haarlem, where I live, the N provincial roads are two-lane roads. See N201, which connects the provinces North-Holland and Utrecht, that has a length of over 56 kilometres and connects, amongst others, Heemstede to Zandvoort. This road has a lane towards the sea and one in the other direction, towards the inland, leading only to intersections. Because of this, whenever these roads have to be closed for necessary maintenance work, motorists are forced to make huge detours to reach the intended destination instead of driving in the usual straight line.
Dutch road network
I remember, when I attended a conference a few years ago on the Dutch road network (which dates back to the times of Napoleon), a road parallel to the coast and all the other perpendicular to it; circular rings around the major centers but never radial roads, as used in Rome. Here, that habit definitely requires more orderly development of new roads since problems arise when one of these roads is closed.
I wish I could give you an idea of the difficulties a motorist encounters to find an alternate route. I hereby refer for example to the roundabout of Santpoort-Noord, a small town to the North of Haarlem. The roundabout is on the main road, linking the station on one side and the highway on the other side. The N208, with two lanes in each direction.
Imagine that the motorway exit is closed. The motorists are conducted by an endless series of yellow signs to follow internal roads, to reach the previous or next exit… I tried to document this with Google Maps and the photos taken on site. Go to Google Maps. Select ‘intinary’, then ‘car’ as transportation and type in the route to Santpoort-Noord coming from IJmuiden. You (might) get the following instructions. Drive to the center of Driehuis, turn at the roundabout or take the next exit, that of Haarlem North.. If you come from Haarlem the solution is more simple, just avoid the bridge that connects Velserbroek-Santpoort.
Over the years I have noticed that the cognitive capacity of the Dutch roads are completely disabled. Meaning, that often the road signs as well tell you what to do and also what you must not do… On the one hand this definitely results in avoiding unnecessary trouble, since the rules are laid down by a committee of experts. On the other hand, it leaves little room for the development of the imagination, that the Dutch – from what I see – exercise much less, than in any other fields.
Non ci resta che piangere (We just have to cry)
At the end of the story I am reminded of the toll of frittole, to Benigni and Troisi, when those two – in the movie “We just have to cry” – are riding in a gray “Ritmo” car on a road without signs and go back in time until the Middle Ages. The film, by contrast, is a superb test of imagination of the authors who – catapulted into the distant past – do not miss a chance to create memorable sketches. For example, one of “Leonardo and the train”, when believing to be back in the present the two actors stumble upon the figure of the Italian genius, Leonardo in fact, that reassures them that they will be the three of them to divide revenues, uttering the famous “33, 33, 33”.
There we were in Italy in the fifteenth century, here we are in the Netherlands in the twenty-first century: differences in age but also in mentality.
One thing is certain: all roads lead to Rome.