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Dutch ‘singing road’ to be scrapped after complaints

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Instead of putting “rumble strips” on a road in a small Dutch village to warn drivers who veered onto the shoulder, officials installed musical strips.

Workers painted the stretch of road near the village, Jelsum, last Friday to “play” music from the regional anthem when tires rumbled along the raised strips. But soon, the biggest rumbling was coming from the village as residents begged authorities to make it stop.

Sietske Poepjes, vice governor of Friesland province, said in a phone interview on Thursday that officials had chosen Jelsum for the experiment partly because it was in the provincial capital, Leeuwarden — which has been named as a European capital of culture in 2018 — and partly because the road, the N357, was long, straight and had a new surface.

“This was not a novelty thing,” Poepjes, said by phone. “This was a necessity for the maintenance of the road. Sometimes people are distracted on the road, and we know people go on the shoulder. We wanted to see how the paint was keeping up.”

In addition, she said, “Since we’re the cultural capital, we said, ‘Let’s make a cultural event of it.’”

Working overnight last Friday, road crews painted about 490 feet of a newly paved, 124-mile stretch of the road with the strips.

Poepjes said music from “a popular part” of the regional anthem, “De Alde Friezen,” or “The Old Frisians,” from the 19th century, had been painted on. The project cost 80,000 euros ($77,000).

The coastal province of Friesland, while part of the Netherlands, has its own language. “We don’t speak Dutch; we speak Friezen,” or Frisian, Poepjes said. “So that’s why we gained the title of cultural capital in 2018, and we wanted to highlight that.”

When drivers hit about 38 miles per hour, the portion of the regional anthem rang loudly and clearly.

And if drivers wandered onto the shoulder at a lower speed?

“If you go too slow, it’s the same thing like if you play a normal record: brr-brr-brr,” Poepjes said, imitating a slowed-down music track.

And if a driver drove on the shoulder backward?

“You’d get the same thing if you play a Madonna record backward,” she said, laughing.

“It’s basically vinyl on the road,” Poepjes explained. “It’s like grooves on the record, but with literally grooves on the road. It’s a very basic concept.”

Basic, but annoying. Soon, villagers began complaining that they could not sleep.

“The Frisian national anthem is fine, but not 24 hours a day,” Sijtze Jansma, who lives about 600 feet from the road, told the news website RTL. “I’m going nuts. You can’t sit outside and you can’t sleep at night.”

Residents are used to noise because the village is home to an air base where fighter jets regularly take off and land. But another resident, Alie Tiemersma, told a local daily, The Leeuwarder Courant: “I would rather the planes than this. At least they stop at 5 p.m.”

Yet another, Margriet de Ruiter, told the newspaper that the noise from the road was “psychological torture.”

Poepjes said she had visited the village to hear complaints because officials wanted to be in sync with villagers on the project. What she heard, she said, was that “it’s working — but, please, not here.”

Basically, she said, “They hated it.”

Poepjes said residents had complained that a lot of drivers were deliberately veering onto the shoulder to start the anthem. “Enthusiastic young people were driving way too fast,” she said.

Referring to the complaints from residents, she added: “I can completely relate. They could hear the anthem over and over when they were sitting in their garden; it has been wonderful weather.”

So, less than a week after the strips were laid down, the province said they would scrape them off.

The Jelsum experiment is not the first of its type in the Netherlands. In 2014, the city of Oss installed glow-in-the-dark, “smart” highway lanes.

And the Netherlands is not the first country to make roads “sing” in an attempt to improve safety. Denmark, Japan, South Korea and the United States also have musical roads.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, a section of Route 66 rumbles “America the Beautiful.” In Japan, rumble strips near Mount Fuji can be brought to life in a similar way.

In Lancaster, California, however, a stretch of desert highway is woefully out of tune. It is supposed to play the “William Tell Overture” from Rossini’s opera when drivers hit 55 mph. The grooves in the road, however, were not installed at the right distance from each other, distorting the sound.

As for the Dutch experiment, Poepjes said officials had not totally given up.

“It has been fun, but now we’re in a cool-down period,” she said. “We’re not going to drop the idea completely. If we do it again, we will do it with a complete understanding of the neighborhood and make sure nobody is bothered by it.”

She added, “It just wasn’t a good idea in the end.”

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