why are automobilists so hard on themselves?

Today was a very special day for me: I drove to work. I work in the city center of Stockholm and driving to the office had obviously never been an option I considered (I enjoy biking too much to commute differently) but since I had to be at the office early (07:00 is early in my world) and cannot currently ride my bike I decided to give it a shot. I could not have been more wrong.

Traffic jam in Stockholm

It’s a 9.5 kilometer drive from home to the office (mainly on expressway) and I thought it would not take me more than 15 minutes to cover the distance if I’d leave home at 06:45. Well… it took me 25 minutes which is as much as when I commute with public transportation and slightly longer than when I’m riding the bike. I was wrong to think traffic would be running smoothly at 06:45: Stockholm’s roads are congested this early and remains so for a couple of hours (it gets better after 09:00 I’d say).

As I was slowly moving I realized how frustrating and stressful it must be to drive to and from work in such conditions every single day. I know some people don’t have the option and need a vehicle as a work tool (nurses and doctors, police officers, …) but having said that, no one will ever persuade me that, in a city as small as Stockholm (population of 2.2 million for the metropolitan area), those people can be so numerous that they cause traffic jams. I would not believe it was bad luck either and all bike and public transit commuters decided to drive – as I did – today.

The picture above is from an article (in Swedish) published on Aftonbladet.se in October last year titled “Over two weeks in traffic jams – each year” and as one could guess the article is all about drivers in Stockholm spending more than two (working) weeks (96 hours) a year in traffic congestion. It took me one car drive to be frustrated enough to write about it and to know it was the first and last time I sat behind the wheel to go to work.

After reading that article I’ve got to ask all drivers out there: Seriously, why are you so hard on yourself? Why do you keep on like that? Don’t you think it would be nicer to sit on a train reading a good book or to ride a bike and get some fresh air?

cyclists under police watch

Stockholm riders can expect more police controls at traffic lights during spring – Peter Ågren, Södermalm police.

Last Tuesday Stockholm’s police began with a series of controls targeting cyclists at the intersection Götgatan – Hornsgatan. According to an article published today on mitt i (in Swedish) 17 cyclists rode through red light and were fined 1500 SEK ($230) that morning.

Red light

While I totally agree with police making sure cyclists follow traffic laws for their own safety and the safety of pedestrians (I don’t think the safety of drivers is at risk here) I also wonder if police attention is in sync with all the political communication, programs and concrete plans for a more livable, greener & cleaner Stockholm (projects for better public transit, bigger and safer bicycle network are making headlines pretty much every week).

In 2010 Stockholm was given the first European Green Capital Award but it does not mean things are perfect and we can all sit back and relax. One of the issues central Stockholm is facing (in winter mainly) is poor air quality with higher levels of PM10 particles than in Los Angeles: studded tyres blamed for poor Stockholm air. In response to these high levels of particles the city of Stockholm introduced a ban on the use of studded tires on Hornsgatan, the very same street I mention at the beginning of this post.

And here is the thing. As I was riding on Hornsgatan the other day I decided to stop for a minute and listen. I don’t remember the exact number (I would gladly stop for another count if I need to show proof) but I know for sure I could hear the obvious sound of studs against asphalt for more than 50% of all cars that passed by during that minute (and trust me we’re closer to 75% than 50%). I ride that street twice a day all year round (not on weekends I have to admit) and I have never ever seen a police control targeting motorists who still use studded tires.

Yes it is a good thing that cyclists follow the rules and police should send strong signals to unsafe riders but what’s the point in keeping cyclists from dying in a crash now if they’re going to die from lung cancer later? Is this an evidence of short instead of long term thinking? Of targeting the minority (cyclists) over the majority (motorists) because it’s just easier?

Volvo’s anti-collision system extended to cyclists

Volvo announced today – at the Geneva motor show – that the collision warning with full auto brake and pedestrian detection safety system can now not only detect pedestrians but also cyclists. The package will be called Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection with full auto brake.

The system monitors traffic thanks to a radar unit integrated into the car’s grille, a camera fitted in front of the interior rear-view mirror and a central control unit. The radar spots objects that are then analysed using the camera. When the safety system identifies a potential danger it warns the driver before engaging the automatic braking function. The feature will be available in the Volvo V40, S60, V60, XC60, V70, XC70 and S80 models from May this year. – Read the announcement on Dagens industri (in Swedish).

While this looks like a pretty good feature on paper (and a useful one if it can prevent accidents) it also is – in my opinion – yet another support system that once again is designed to compensate for automobilists lack of attention to the road and lack of focus on actually driving a 2-ton vehicle: rely on the ABS in slippery road conditions, rely on the pedestrians detection system while typing an SMS, …

There are of course times when those systems are going to act upon a sudden and unpredictable situation and save lives but wouldn’t it be easier to solve safety issues directly at the source (behind the wheel that is) instead of making cars smarter? Is it worth investing so much money in R&D to solve an issue that occur most of the time on 3 (and less) kilometer drives (around 50% of all car trips are three kilometers or less)? Can’t people concentrate more than 2 minutes behind the wheel?

H&M to release urban biking collection

In a month from now the Swedish multinational retail-clothing company H&M will release an 11 piece men’s collection of cycling wear in collaboration with Brick Lane Bikes.

Inspired by vintage clothing and the latest sports performance wear the collection has been designed by H&M and tested and approved by Brick Lane Bikes. It will be made from more sustainable materials – organic and recycled cottons, recycled polyester – as part of H&M’s Conscious work.

H&M for Brick Lane Bikes

The products will be available in 180 stores worldwide (but also in the webshop) on the 7th of March.

Looking forward to it? Will the quality be good enough for daily bike commuters?

bike lanes network gets 250 million Swedish kronor upgrade

As more and more people choose to commute by bike the city of Stockholm needed to revisit the relatively low investments made in the cycling infrastructures over the past few years (decades?).

Even if Stockholm is a rather nice city for bike commuters some had to leave the bike home (long before the winter came and commuting by bike became a real challenge) because of overcrowded lanes (150,000 cyclists every day) and the risks it might mean for someone who is not use to handle a bike just like another part of the body.

Long story short, the Committee on Transportation will go through a first 246 million Swedish kronor (38 million U.S. dollars) batch of improvements and initiatives next week out of the 1 billion Swedish kronor (157 million U.S. dollars) budget set aside for cycling infrastructures.

new bike lanes on the horizon

Stockholm’s cycling network is getting major attention right now (Lilla Västerbron, Kymlingestråket, Perstorpsvägen and Flatenvägen are first on the list and planned for 2013) and will develop together with other big projects and changes in Stockholm’s landscape (Slussen and Hagastaden for instance).

All of that sounds good to my bike commuter ears but there is no such thing as a free lunch and here’s the catch.

Stockholm will gradually become a better and safer city for cycling. But it will eventually get crowded in many places and we just can’t make bridges wider for instance.” – Ulla Hamilton, traffic commissioner

This post is my own interpretation of this article published in Dagens Nyheter on January 30, 2013.

what a week

It’s Saturday morning, I’m sitting on the couch with a cup of coffee, sore legs and mixed feelings after the last couple of days: it has been quite a commuting experience to say the least.

It all started with freezing cold weather (between -10°C and -15°C) on Monday and Tuesday but roads were clean and apart from the extra time it took to dress up accordingly the daily rides were business as usual and quite enjoyable.

But on Wednesday the weather Gods – for some obscure reason – decided to punish us all and poured thousands of cubic meters of fresh snow all over Stockholm.

“Crews at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport were forced to remove 200,000 cubic metres of snow in the wake of the storm, nearly as much as the 250,000 cubic metres removed for the entire 2011-2012 winter season.” – thelocal.se

And chaos it was. Complete chaos. The city buses were pulled out of service, commuter trains and subways faced severe delays when not cancelled and people had to find a way to get home: a colleague even walked 16 kilometers not even trying to hail a nowhere to be found available cab.

Snow, snow & snow
Snow chaos, svd.se

I half walked, half rode the bike in deep fresh snow between the office and home and made it back in an hour or so (compared to the usual 25 minutes). It felt like the worst ride ever at the time but having the bike with me in those conditions was probably the best choice in retrospect.

Thursday morning’s ride was still a bit rough with not all of the bike lanes cleared and ridable but everything was back in order on Thursday evening.

I can understand how frustrated Stockholmers have felt during the storm – let down by the public transport system having to find an alternative to get home – but let’s face it: which city in the world would have done better? Everything was up and running in less than 24 hours after the first flake came down and I must admin that I am quite impressed by how the situation was handle and the amazing work done by the snow plow crews who have been working 24/7 since then.

new bicycle hire scheme on Djurgården

Since yesterday (November 8th, 2012) a new bicycle sharing system – Djurgårdscykeln – operated by JCDecaux & Kungliga Djurgårdsförvaltningen is running on Djurgården and is open 24/7 all year round.

The 50 available bikes are not part of the existing SVD Stockholm City Bikes network but can be used (for free) if you already got a City Bikes card or an active public transport (SL) access card. If you are like me and have neither of those cards you can opt for the 3 day access costing as little as 10 SEK.

There is currently one docking station located by Cirkus close to the main entrance to Skansen, the famous open air museum. You can rent a bike for 3 hours at a time and up to 8 times within 24 hours.

Link to Djurgårdscykeln: http://djurgardscykeln.se/en/

do as I say and not as I do

I found that picture in the newspaper last Friday but unfortunately could not find the online version on DN.se.

police at work on Södermalm

Tommy Åberg was riding his bike on Blekingegatan (south of Stockholm) when he came to a police car parked on the bike lane. He thought something wrong was going on (like a robbery) at first and decided to have a quick look around. But the emergency seems to have been of a completely different nature: the law enforcers needed a little sugar kick and were just buying some candies.