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Streets ahead 11 November 2012

Posted by cooperatoby in Brussels.
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Autumnal beeches along the Jachtdreef in the Zoniënwoud, Brussels

I took myself for an autumn walk in the Zoniënwoud yesterday. It was a failed attempt to find more edible mushrooms, but did enjoy the colours. On my mycological meander, I followed the Jachtdreef northwards from Jezus-Eik to Vier Armen, a route which, like a Roman road or a street in San Francisco, takes no account of the topography and marches straight up the side of the Flossendelle as a flight of steps. Apart from the visual wonders of the autumnal beechwoods, the walk also opened up a new sort of connectivity in my use of public transport. It connected one radial route – the E411 axis towards Wavre – which had hitherto been almost out of bounds because it required the use of a car – with another – the Avenue de Tervuren – which is one of Belgium’s few remaining interurban tramlines (and the one we traversed during my 50th birthday party).
This sort of multimodality is terribly important in enabling us to live carfree lives. And route-planning software is a major aid in this. But it is imperfect. I used De Lijn’s route-finding service, and the first barrier is that you have to be unreasonably precise in entering your starting and destination addresses: it has to be precisely ‘Jezus-Eik’ and ‘Sint-Gillis (Brussel)’ with the hyphens. There is a look-up table from which you have to choose, but this has the effect of always making you feel you are in the wrong. Surely it could try to work more intuitively with the ignorant traveller’s guess of ‘Jezus Eik’ or ‘Jesus Eik’ or even God voorhoede ‘Notre-Dame-au-Bois’?
Secondly, you have to know the exact address of where you are going, and if you don’t know what street names and numbers actually exist in Jezus-Eik, it is reluctant to help you. Seeing as there is only one bus stop in the village this seems over-exigent. (Truus has a handy tip for use in Dutch route-finding: head for ‘Kerkstraat 10’, as almost every settlement in God-fearing Holland has one of those.)
Thirdly, the route it proposed was absurd. It suggested I take the no. 3 tram down to De Brouckère, step onto the irritatingly long moving pavement to the metro, and get a train out to Hankar. From there I should walk over to Delta to get a bus: this would take 10 minutes – why not get out of the metro at Delta itself? It ignored two much easier connections: via the 94 at Herrmann-Debroux, or the 7 at Etterbeek Station. I chose the latter, and only had a two-minute wait, although finding the bus stop necessitated careful reading of the STIB routemap. It’s typically Belgian that TEC’s ‘Comforto’ route C terminates on Avenue de la Couronne on the right-hand side of the station while De Lijn’s 341, 349 etc. buses wait on Boulevard de la Plaine on the left-hand side, 150 metres away – and neither is signed from the station or the tramstop.
When I got back I checked out Google maps, and it offers a dazzling variety of routes, including a very intricate Arabesque through Watermael-Boitsfort on bus 41. It too misses the Etterbeek connection, but at least it gives you a mass of information in under a minute, in any language, and laid out graphically rather than timetable-fashion. De Lijn is trying to be helpful, but its system has the feel of a high-handed bureaucracy rather than a service for the poor dim public. This is not the way to attract new users to public transport.
Just don’t get me started on the SNCB’s ticket machines!

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