Monday, June 30, 2008

Confusing Signs

One of the signs they have here that doesn't compute to a lot of people is this sign above. (The top one.) To an American, it looks like the opposite of a "No people walking here" sign. In reality, it is a "No people walking here" sign. With my American brain, I would think that a "no people walking here" sign would have a diagonal bar across it like a no smoking sign. So this particular sign doesn't really work in this touristy city.

I think most tourists look at that walkway and think, What a lovely walkway they've put here for me to stroll down. (They don't look at the signs. Trust me.) The problem is that it isn't a walkway. It's a bike path. And as you can see in the photo, the innocent biker is headed into the strollers.

I watched it happen a couple of times until the couple finally moved to the other side of the road. It probably didn't register that this little symbol is in the pavement very hundred meters or so.
At the other end of the walkway, there's a slightly better sign. It's a a couple of people in white on a field of blue with a diagonal red stripe. Does it help? No. People don't look at signs, generally. Plus, it has that arrow there, which means one way, but for the road or the bike path? I always take the road heading this direction and the bike path coming back.

There are a couple of bike paths like this around the city, but walking tourists are very often in all the bike paths. They look like big, beautiful, luxurious walking paths. And I have to admit that when I am walking, even I have to really think about staying out of the bike paths. (Even I who complain about walkers all the time.)

Bike bells are standard issue on Dutch bikes. Locals generally hear them, but a lot of tourists don't know to listen. So bikers ping or ring until they're right up on the walkers. I've even yelled, but I don't make it a habit.

People have reacted to my ringing in a number of ways. I've had people move slowly to one side, jump, freeze and even mock me with "ring ring!" as I pass. As a New Yorker, I give those last ones the standard salute. (You can take the guy out of New York, but you can't take the New York out of the guy.)

Once on this path, I rang my bell at a group of tourist with plenty of time for them to move out of my way. Most of the group moved, but there was a child who didn't. As I got closer (and I was prepared to stop or slow down rather than run him over) the mother moved toward the child, got on one knee and stared me down. Fortunately, the father pulled them both out of the way. I drove by and said, "Bike path."

There should be some worldwide standardization of signage. One of these days I'm going to have to take the Dutch driving test (long story) and there are pages of signs that don't make any sense to me.

My sense is that the "city experience" is a new to a lot of tourists. They walk like they're in the suburbs. With the zillions of bikes here (some of them manned by tourists) there's a lot to watch out for. So like your mother said, look both ways before crossing the street. And like I always say, Stay out of the bike paths - please.

2 comments:

Marc said...

I couldn't have said it any better myself...excluding my growing passive-aggressiveness in certain repeating situations :)

Anonymous said...

"With my American brain, I would think that a "no people walking here" sign would have a diagonal bar across it like a no smoking sign. So this particular sign doesn't really work in this touristy city."

I'm pretty sure that the majority of tourists in Amsterdam probably don't have American brains, but European, and a red-edged circle is the standard European sign indicating something that is prohibited.

Let me know when you're taking driving lessons, and I'll be sure to be out of town that day ;-)

Alastair