Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Business Section of El País today avers that Spain’s chances of recovering as quickly as she might from the recession are hampered by the fact the Government is being vacillatory while the Opposition is rendered ineffective by a fratricidal internal struggle. Which is just another way of saying what I wrote yesterday, I like to think.

In sharp contrast to Spain - where the government’s popularity is more than merely surviving the economic downturn – Britain’s governing Labour party now looks irretrievably doomed. Just a year or so ahead of general elections, all recent polls put them miles behind the Opposition Conservative party. One commentator has suggested the only surprising thing about this is that it’s been so long coming.

On a wider front, talk of protectionism is inevitably in the air - even in Britain, which has traditionally played rather more by the level-playing-field rules than most other nations, including its EU partners. Especially its EU partners. Which is all just an excuse to lift this joke from one of today’s papers – “To stem a flood of Japanese bicycles the French decreed that henceforth each machine had to be individually tested. OK, said the Japanese. Not at the port of entry, but in the remote provincial town of Poitiers, the French specified. OK, sighed the Japanese. And by a French Olympic medallist, the French insisted. OK, groaned the Japanese. Unfortunately, said the French, there aren't any French cycling medallists.”

The local police are referred to around here - and possibly everywhere else in Spain- as payasos, or clowns. But it’s be hard to beat the stupidity of two members of the better-regarded national police force, the Guardia Civil, who not only fooled around with three young women in and near their car but allowed them to take pictures of the proceedings. Which, of course, we can now all enjoy at our leisure.

So . . . is this the first sign of an answer to my regular question about how long it will be before we see evidence Spain is becoming less europhilic. Assuming you regard Cataluña as part of Spain, of course.

Talking of signs . . . Here’s one on Pontevedra’s inner ring, just before a large roundabout/circle . . .

But why? Well, it may help to explain why, after 8 years, I remain mystified as to how one is supposed to go through a roundabout in Spain. The inference to be drawn from the lines is that you can stay in either lane if you’re going straight on. But the evidence of my own eyes is that all drivers here are taught to get into the right-hand lane if they’re going straight on. And even if they’re turning left! In fact, I’ve seen them doing this even when executing a U-turn. Given what will happen if you stay in the left-hand lane to go straight on and the car on your right is turning left, perhaps it’s no great surprise that roundabouts account for the highest percentage of accidents here in Galicia. And possibly in the rest of Spain as well. Does anyone know what the law says? Not that this is always very relevant here, of course. Unless you want to avoid one of the ever-rising number of fines being handed out by the revenue-hungry traffic police.

Finally, here’s an article which suggests the British are on the verge of rising up against what I’ve been calling for years the country’s very own brand of corruption – feather-bedding by civil servants. Maybe. We will see.


Midnight Golfer said...

Just one year ago I had to retake Driver's Ed. in Madrid, in order to take the exams to get my Spanish D.L.
This is because they don't recognize my licenses from the States (Not California's and not Georgia's - and they told me that no state has an agreement with Spain.)
I have been driving for nearly 18 years, but in class, I had to ask a lot of questions about round-abouts, both for the exam, as well as for real life, as I have had scarce experience with them back home.

The town where I went to college experimented by putting one in at an intersection that previously had been a 4-way stop, but only had a single lane in each direction.
I was really impressed with the benefit to my daily commute, as it allowed me to barely slow down, was a single lane, and had nothing in the middle to obstruct the view, and was only about two-thirds the diameter of a typical European round-about would have been, requiring very little steering-wheel to navigate it.

It was a kind of a shock the first time it snowed after they put in the round-about. I pretty much went straight through it, up, over and through the middle circle. Luckily I was driving the Jeep that day. I'm also lucky I started work at 6 AM, and I was pretty much the only one on that road at the time.

Anyways, I got my Autoescuela book off the shelf just now. Glorietas are really simple;

you are supposed to slow down as you come upon one,

keep the middle of the circle to your left,

and if they only have one lane; you just yield to the cars already circulating,

unless otherwise posted.

Of course, if there is more than one lane, it gets a little bit more complicated.

*You must never cut some one off who is driving in an outside ring (any lane further away from the center of the round-about than yours.)

*You should stay in the right hand lane:

**unless traffic is heavy enough,

**or the roadway itself makes it advisable to do so, and in order to facilitate the incorporation of other cars (who should be yielding to you anyways - so THAT'S confusing.)

**or to pass slower vehicles

***BUT NEVER to cut some one off, or to make a shortcut for yourself, and never if it causes you to get in the way of someone who is following behind you.***

In town, you can drive in whichever lane is most convenient for you to arrive at your chosen destination, and you can even pass on the right. (Except if you cut some one off.)

So basically, the rules seem to be a free-for-all once you actually get inside the ring, especially once there's enough traffic to make things interesting.
You can use whichever lane you want, pass anybody you want: it's just that you aren't allowed to cut anyone off, which is, of course inevitable, as no two cars ever seem to be travelling at the exact same speed, nor is there any way to anticipate which direction the other drivers are intending to use to exit the circle, nor is there any way to use signals to indicate any of this information accurately.

In real life, the only people who stick solely to the outside, or who even remember that you are never supposed to cut someone off who is in the outside lane; are the student drivers in the driver's ed cars. Every one else uses the outside lane, and their right-turn signal (blinker) only for turning right, or just before they exit the circle, and for everything else they signal left-blinkers, (even to go straight sometimes,) until just before they leave the circle.

Traffic circles are much more efficient that four-way stops, as long as traffic is light and average speeds can be maintained. The time, brake material and fuel wasted by having to completely stop and then re-accelerate are significantly lessened, not mention patience. But just like every type of intersection, they become exponentially less efficient with every vehicle added, and at higher velocities. The drawback is their achilles heal of getting complete bound up if they fill up with bumper-to-bumper traffic, even IF every driver is obeying the rules, and there is no way to prevent it remotely.

Also, some circles are used to terminate multilane roads, leaving the chance that more than one car may enter, both headed in the same direction, and both with the intention of leaving in the same direction, with only one lane to share once they do. Since it is easier, and less distance, to travel in the inner ring, the vehicle in the outer ring is more prone to getting cut-off.
They also naturally "punish" less agressive drivers, and give agressive drivers the impression that they are not causing any problem, since they get in and get out quickly, and move on to the next 'obstacle.' Also, any increase in efficiency is also completely "eaten-up" by the series of raised cross-walks and speed breakers that are usually installed by the same municipalities that also rely on round-abouts instead of stop signs or stoplights.

In contrast:
Stoplights keep their intersections more open, and their rules are much more straightforward.
*Obey the light, and do not enter the intersection unless there is already enough room on the other side to receive you.
(This is also why suicide-lanes and right-turn-on-red is so popular in the States, it 'feels' like less rules.)
Their interior rectangles of open space never completely bind-up, unless many drivers all disobey the rules together.

The drawback is cost of maintenance of electrical parts, not all drivers obey the rules, and the open rectangles, given enough intersections in a row, actually 'eat up' a lot of roadway, which means less cars-per-mile.
They also become somewhat more complex when there are an odd number of roads (3 or 5 points being possible, but 7 or more being effectively impossible,) or when involving one-way streets.
However, they can handle multiple lanes, as many as you want, really, better than circles, as long as the number of exits matches the number of lanes entering.

The advantage is that lights can coordinated, by pre-programmed timers, or by manually plugging in at the scene, and even during heavy traffic, they allow room for emergency vehicles to get through (especially on roads that also have left-turn 'suicide' lanes running down the middle.) Traffic lights can even be equipped with sensors that react to emergency vehicles' strobe-lights, and cameras for dispatchers to remotely improve traffic conditions when necessary. Despite the cost, even the poorest of towns in the U.S. tends to opt for streetlights, instead of a traffic circles, when the need arises to improve upon intersections previously governed by signs or simple right-of-way.

Unfortunately, most municipalities don't program their lights in orchestrated unison, and instead opt to use the higher technology in order to create 'traps' to increase revenue and to gather intelligence, usually claiming that they have to recoup the cost of the initial installation, and even afterwards, simply because it is so convenient for them to increase government influence over the populace through them. This of course is always called "public safety."

Can you tell I used to work for the traffic division of a police department? I also nearly got a degree in city planning, but back then construction paid better, so I went for Construction Management instead. Oh well.

Bill said...

The joke about the French and insisting Poitiers be used when importing certain goods into France is actually based on a real incident, although the joke has changed the details of course.

During the 1980s the French wanted to stem the flow of electronic goods into the country, to protect local manufacturers. Electronics items cost significantly more in France than in neighbouring countries and for certain (such as TVs and videos) their were specific technical requirements (colour decoding and video and sound systems) designed to limit reception of foreign broadcasts by domestic equipment.

Anyway, in the mid-1980s they decreed that all imports of video-recorders (at that time mainly from Japan itself or Japanese brands assembled elsewhere in Asia) had to be imported through Poitiers, in their original shipping containers - a quick glance at the map reveals just how far the city is from the coast (inland from La Rochelle), and that all technical information had to be translated into French with original signatures of conformity on every document for each piece of equipment; copies were not acceptable. Poitiers of course did not have the customs facilities to handle international trade either.

It didn't last long, of course - this was during the earlier period of Mitterand's Presidency when very left-wing policies were being adopted, until the period of 'co-habitation' began in 1986 when the folly of the earlier policies became clear to the electorate, shortly after my arrival to live there; luckily I caught only the tail-end of the worst of his madness.

Colin said...

Many thank, MG, for this comprehensive answer.

Surely the United States has an agreement with Spain, covering all the state. But perhaps not.

As for the rules where there are two lanes . . you're right, it's an official free-for-all. Nice to see this confirmed! But I wonder on what basis the opolice could fine you. Though I guess they'l think of something.

I would argue with you about only learners staying always in the outside lane. Ive had to brake to avoid many a non-learner coming across from my right when I've been going straight on.

Of course, logic dictates that the right lane is the most safe if you want to avoid people coming at you from the left but you still hve to aovid foreign idiots such as me in the left lane going straight on. The compensation is that you?d have the law on your side (I think!) if you were hit

Of course, the whole situation is not helped by what we might call idiosyncratic signalling. Such as someone in the right lane indicating right ("straight on") and then cutting across you to turn left. A frequent problem.

So, the rule surely is - Go slowly and assume everyone on the roundabout is going to do something stupid.

Colin said...


Thanks for this. Interesting to see the confirmation of veracity. Of course, the French have given all this up now. Or become cleverer at it.

Midnight Golfer said...

Midnight Golfer said...

The Italians are not alone on this: