Rule of the right

It turns out that The Gileppe has a twin just a couple ten kilometers away: Le Barrage de la Vespre.

It’s about 50 years old, young compared The Gileppe, but still old in water years.

And it is a more modern style concrete arch dam, unlike the earthen fill of The Gileppe.

Fortunately, we were with a savvy driver, who was able to weave us into obscure roadlets with better-than-we-bargained-for views that a fresh-off-the-boat tourist would never manage to find … at least intentionally. As much as I’ve enjoyed riding a bike in Belgium, I would be very hesitant to drive there.

Yes, drivers generally move faster, and more aggressively, especially during straight-aways, and the roads – and the lanes – are much narrower and curvier (thus explaining the penchant for speeding up for straight-aways).

And yes, in terms of navigating on a road, you don’t so much head out in a direction as you go from point to point.

And yes, above all it’s unfamiliar terrain – despite the wise tale that says you are most likely to get into an accident within a 2-mile radius of your home.

But none of those reasons bothers me much.

But “The Rule of the Right” does.

The primary rule of engagement of the roadways is an unintuitive principle called “The Rule of the Right.” I should probably rephrase that: the rule was unintuitive to me, as I think it would be to most non-Belgians. But for Belgians, it’s hardwired in their driving DNA.

The corollary to the rule is that there are no stop signs in Belgium.

But who needs them with “The Rule of the Right.” So long as you know (remember, detect) that at the intersection of any two roads, no matter how big small or hard to see, the vehicle turning right always has the right of way … then there really is no reason to stop.

Not only is there not a reason to stop, there’s also a disincentive to not stop, or even slow down.

The Rule of the Right originally came with a caveat that if you stopped or hesitated, or in some inner circles of aggressive drivers, even blinked you eyes – you forfeited your priority to turn.

Over the years, this hesitation caveat inspired drivers to be even more aggressive in order not to lose priority. The hesitation caveat also tended to make fender benders more difficult to resolve (did he pause or didn’t he), not to mention making the roadways considerably more dangerous: a flinch from one car would be answered with an acceleration from the other, or alternatively, encouraging drivers to blind turn to the right without consideration that the on-coming straight-away car (or truck or tractor) may not even see them.
Fortunately, law makers stepped in to save to the day with recent elimination of the “no pause” rule. (It’s the talk of the town). Now, even if you pause, you still retain your priority to turn right – if you dare.

I’m sure I could master the Rule of the Right for a short simple trip, from point A to point B; but during the course of a longer trip, or if I lost my way and way trying to find a particular spot, I’m sure that I would lapse into straight-away priority mindset: and what to they say about accidents … it only takes one accident to erase a thousand did-it-safelys. (Actually, I just made that up).

But even if I did eventually get the Rule of the Right down pat, there is the constant threat of the road detour arrows.

In fact, the road detour arrow is a ubiquitous feature of the roadway, as common as stop signs in America.

You’ll rarely find a flagmen in Belgium waving an alternating flow of one-way traffic by the construction zone: they just detour you a country mile (in this case a country kilometer) around the work through a labyrinth of winding roads, never without a good half dozen arrows, on a scenic tour to see more cows.

That’s easy – if also annoying – for the locals, but for an out-of-towner (or even further away) like me, it takes a couple ten detours to get the mental map reoriented again.

If only those cows could tell directions.
And then finally the detour arrows spill you back on the main route … and remember, your Rule of the Right priority fully intact.

Just in time for another rotary!

Did I mention the rotaries?

Traffic engineers love rotaries: they are an efficient and self-regulating way to maintain orderly traffic flow at multi-road intersections, particularly where traffic volumes are higher, … and without the need for stop signs.

As you can imagine, rotaries are a common sight in Belgium, with an extremely tight radius for turning.

And rotaries are the only place that the Rule of the Right does not apply.

And did I mention you cannot turn right on red at a stop light, not even if you stop.

Go figure.

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