#9The path is always changing

path through dunes

path through dunes

We had a window of good weather, so I cancelled or changed several appointments and went walking.

I have to admit this leg was more difficult than previous ones for various reasons- I was carrying  heavier pack and was breaking in new walking shoes. Then the bus broke down- it was only 12 minutes from the stop where I’d left off last time, so I decided to walk it. I even found a place to rejoin a part of the Pieterpad I’d done last time. Bad move. It took me a whole day to get back to the place I needed to be, the weather was overcast, plus all the other factors just mentioned made it less fun. It was hard finding a place to stay, it got late, I was exhausted, etc etc. All part of long distance walking, I guess. In the end I did find a place with wonderful people hosting, and was able to rest, eat and have a good night’s sleep- all of of which take on heightened importance when on the road.

A nice feature I’ve run into a few times now are the ‘rest points’- unmanned little havens especially for hikers or cyclists, where you can at least make a cup of coffee or tea, and where there is often a toilet too. You just leave the money in a little dish.  This one was especially welcoming and had a guest book  full of appreciation from people who
had used it.

rest point outside

rest point outside

rest point interior

rest point interior

The next 2 days were great, but I will go back to my smaller, lighter pack. Walking with that weight on my back ruins the whole feeling of lightness and freedom these walks usually mean for me.

Leaving beautiful Drenthe, I crossed over into a new province- Overijssel (over EYE’ sill). The landscape became flatter again, less trees, the path was varied. It ran along canals and roads, through industrial parks, next to a windmill park, and down along the sides of highways.

The season is clearly changing, there were nuts, buckeyes (Pittsburghese for horse- chestnuts), and yellowing leaves on the paths. Farmers were bringing in the hay and grain. The midsummer fresh green was turning to a duller olive, the sun was lower. Usually I’m sad to see the summer leave, but it was such a rarely beautiful one that I can move, with acceptance and with nature, into autumn.

Commitments are starting up again, so it will be harder to get away for a few days in a row, but I’m determined to at least do some fall walking. And I’m curious about what the next section of path holds.

 

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Slow down! You’re driving through our living room!

offering a treat for good behaviour during one of our actions

offering a treat for good behaviour during one of our actions

Early this year, I wrote optimistically about the action group I’m involved in to try and improve traffic safety on our road. Below is our first action, ‘At home on the street’, a living room set up on the side of the road, with the carpet extending onto the road- to try to communicate that this is not only a through road, but people live here.

'At home on the street', thumbs up for a good driver

‘At home on the street’, thumbs up for a good driver

Now, a year on from our first action in the summer 2013, we’ve gained experience and wisdom. And we see more clearly just what it is we are up against.

heavy freight vehicles on our country road

heavy freight vehicles on our country road

heavy vehicles on our country road

heavy farm vehicles

The situation: we live on a country road in a beautiful agricultural area. However, it is also a provincial thruway used intensively by agricultural machinery and and heavy freight trucks.

There are, including cars, an average of 1500 vehicles passing by our door-  per day!!

And according to official figures, 80% of them drive too fast, making crossing the street a life-threatening experience, and the question of children playing on or near the road unthinkable.

heavy freight carriers on our country road

2 years ago, taking into consideration the years long complaints about the road, the province carried out a complete renovation of this piece of the N983. There were aesthetic changes meant to emphasise the neighbourhood aspects of the road like new streetlights and cycle lanes, new paving, as well as ‘shared space crossings’. But most importantly, the speed limit was reduced from 80 to 60km/hour just outside the village, and from 50km to 30km/hour within the village boundaries.

Very few drivers, including locals, observe/d the 30km limit. Despite our complaints the province claims that the overall speed has dropped some, to a bit under 50km, and those are the best results we can hope for. They consider the changes a success!

A year on down the line, we now have two light displays-one at either end of the village- showing people their current speed; and as an experiment, the province has placed cement obstacles at intervals down one side of the road.

When these, plus our months of friendly and attention getting actions, didn’t have the impact we’d hoped (in many cases it made people more aggressive!) we turned to the police to ask if they would help enforce the new speed limit. The story we got in answer to this is too absurd for words!

Evidently, the police (municipal)  can’t initiate action on our behalf. They must receive an order from the people responsible for the road (the province). The province doesn’t see that there is a real problem here. But it gets even better, even if the police would come here and give speeding tickets, these won’t hold up in court because the road doesn’t fulfil the qualifications for a country road (remember the renovation that was supposed to ensure this?). Certain elements in the design of the road indicate it as a through road- not a residential area. When we asked why this was allowed to happen, our civil servant contact says, ‘You attended the planning meetings, so why didn’t you tell us you didn’t want this?’ But of course those of us at the planning meetings didn’t have the technical expertise to foresee the consequences of this kind of decision.

So after our summer break, in our first meeting we realised that what we’re really up against is much bigger than a localised question of speeding cars through a village.We now know that we’re trying to change deeply ingrained mentality and behaviour. In our culture and here in Holland for sure, people don’t pay attention to rules unless they are forced to. As long as no one in authority is watching they will break every rule they can. So we’re up against habitual antisocial behaviour which is accepted as normal. Also, people don’t like others to change things, what we get a lot is,’We’ve been driving this road for 30 years at 50km, who are you to tell us we should change now?’

No amount of argument about danger for children and pets and older people helps,’There have always been children living near this road, none have ever been hurt’.

….yet.

Also, though no one will admit it, the province is dragging its feet on providing the one solution that would solve the problem- place obstacles in such a way that cars can’t go faster than 30km. Personally, I think it all comes down to politics and money- they are unwilling to antagonise the farmers or trucker businesses that drive through here.

So that’s what we’re up against. From the original team of 8, there are 4 of us still actively functioning in the group. For some, a year of intense volunteer work, self funded, with few visible results, was too discouraging; for others, their work is now taking precedence. For those of us left, admittedly weary and discouraged but still committed, our immediate strategy is to unite with surrounding villages who have similar problems.

If you know of any success stories with these kinds of citizen-based actions, please do let me know!