Dutch ‘Singing Road’ Silenced After Villagers Complain: ‘I’m Going Nuts’

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

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

Ms. 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, or about $99,000.

Dutch ‘Singing Road’ Silenced After Villagers Complain: ‘I’m Going Nuts’
Dutch ‘Singing Road’ Silenced After Villagers Complain: ‘I’m Going Nuts’

Signs told drivers, “You are approaching a singing road.” When drivers hit 60 kilometers per hour, about 38 m.p.h., the regional anthem rang loud and clear. 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,” Ms. Poepjes said, imitating a slowed-down record.

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

But 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 accustomed 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.”

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

Ms. 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.”

Ms. 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.

She added of the complaints: “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 two days after the strips were laid down, province officials had them scraped off overnight Wednesday.

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 isn’t the first country to make roads “sing” in an effort to improve safety. Denmark, Japan, South Korea and the United States also have musical roads.

Denmark claims credit for the first known musical road, known as the “Asphaltophone.” In Albuquerque, N.M., a section of Route 66 rumbles “America the Beautiful.” In Japan, rumble strips near Mount Fuji can be brought to life. In South Korea, musical grooves were installed in dangerous stretches to get drivers to pay attention, including one road that plays an off-key version of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

California’s musical road is out of tune. Video by Tom Scott

In Lancaster, Calif., 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 m.p.h.

The grooves in the road, however, were not installed at the right distance from each other, distorting the sound.

As for the Dutch experiment, Ms. 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.”

Nina Siegal contributed reporting.

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