16 Oct 2014

Colliding with institutional failure

Outdated rules turn crowding into annoyance
I admire the Dutch most of the time for their thoughtful and efficient policies, which makes it all the more jarring to encounter their inefficient and exasperating policies. One such concerns "flow control" in Dutch swimming pools.

I have swum laps in many countries. In most cases, swimmers in shared lanes go in anti-clockwise circles that allow a continuous "flow" of people coming and going off the walls in either end. This first step allows many people to share one lane.

The next step takes speed into consideration, so that swimmers are sorted in to slow, medium and fast lanes. Some pools clarify this sorting with signs that say "move to a slower lane if you're being passed or a faster lane if you're passing people." Proper sorting keeps the flow going by reducing the need to pass, which can be annoying or dangerous (if two passing swimmers meet head on).

The Dutch use the first but not the second method of improving flow, due to a curious tradition of separating swimmers into "snelle baan" (fast swimming) and "borstcrawl" (crawl stroke). The separation by speed and stroke leads to people swimming "fast" breaststroke in snelle baan lanes (there are even slower lanes nearby) and slow crawl in the borstcrawl lane. These divisions leave fast crawlstrokers like me with the choice of passing many breaststrokers in the snelle baan lane (making them mad for swimming the wrong stroke) or passing slow crawl strokers in the borstcrawl lane (making them mad for swimming fast). Some swimmers (nearly always men) kick in your direction or push off in front of you in protest of going too fast in their lane, which is both dangerous and rude.

I've discussed these problems many times with lifeguards, who usually reply "this is the way we've always done it" or "it's in the rules," which are codes for "butt out of our culture" or "good luck getting administration to listen," respectively.

The Dutch are usually quite good at reforming outdated institutions, but this one seems to be stuck. I'm not sure of how to tackle it, but I guess that it will require a debate within the national organization of masters swimmers (or equivalent) due to the need to keep the rules in sync. That may take some time.

Bottom Line: Outdated institutions at Dutch pools have turned a non-rival "club good" into a rival "common pool good" that cannot cater to demand from swimmers. A reform of the rules would make it easier to accommodate more swimmers in a safer environment.


Jazz Chu said...

As a trained swimmer, I found it funny but annoying. It really needs to be changed.

RP said...

Well, you nailed it. I just got back from FINLAND where you swim in any lane regardless of speed: total chaos and not worth trying to swim. People are stubborn....

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.