throwing money out the (car) window

Not even a month into the new routine and I’m already behind schedule. I did spend Monday morning cycling around Stockholm though – looking for a front rack to my Kona Paddy Wagon – but, considering the fine weather, I could not ride back home to lock myself in and write another piece of crap. I had lunch on hipstermalm, decided the blog could just wait and enjoyed some sun instead.

There are a couple of places where that star don’t shine unfortunately. Road tunnels are a good example and Swedish taxpayers would be pleased – as I was when I first read about it obviously – to know that 50 million Swedish kronor (that’s 5.5 million euros or 7 million US dollars) has been spent to light up the underground part of Norra Länken. 50 million Swedish kronor spent on five kilometers (you do the maths for a cost per kilometer), 50 million Swedish kronor spent on 6 art pieces inside a bloody road tunnel.1

I won’t argue on how tax money is being used (I might have done just that already) but I have to question, however, the thinking behind that sort of installation. A driver’s attention is a limited, critical resource that is already compromised by lots of distractions: space shuttle like dashboard with touch screen and switches all over, kids having a blast (or not) in the back, texting, emailing, instagraming, facebooking, you name it. Should we really distract drivers even more with art along the road? Aren’t you suppose to stay focused and keep your mind on the road when behind the wheel. I naively thought so.

I’m having a hard time understanding how these 50 million Swedish kronor pieces of art fit in the Vision Zero road traffic safety project started in Sweden in 1997 but, at the same time, I’m also having a hard time understanding how building more roads help reducing traffic jam. It seems that the guys at the Swedish Transport Administration just know better (about 50 seconds in the video).

Norra Länken will open to traffic on November 30 and while art lovers should not really have time to appreciate the exhibition (remember, no more traffic jam) I’ll probably be cruising around Stockholm on a far from perfect bike paths network. Too bad there’s not much money and intention to fix that.


Rien n’est simple (1962)

The least we can say when looking at these 5 drawing from 1962 is that Jean-Jacques Sempé (a French cartoonist) saw it coming. Each of the illustrations shows a “proletarian” (left) and a middle-class person (right) going to work. And as time goes by…

Rien n'est simple, 1962
walking & cycling

Rien n'est simple, 1962
walking & driving a car

Rien n'est simple, 1962
cycling & driving an even bigger car

Rien n'est simple, 1962
riding a moped & driving an even bigger bigger car

Rien n'est simple, 1962
finally “driving” a car (stuck in traffic) & cycling

After years of hard labour and social progress the “proletarian” (like a good deal of the population) could finally afford a car but the comfort and freedom the automobile cartel (manufacturers, politicians, …) promised were long gone…

What do you say? Did we end up in the situation Jean-Jacques Sempé had in mind more than half a century ago or was he completely wrong?

Jean-Jacques Sempé, usually known as Sempé (born 17 August 1932 in Bordeaux), is a French cartoonist. Some of his cartoons are quite striking, but retain a sentimental and often a somewhat gentle edge to them, even if the topic is a difficult one to approach. He once drew a series called Le petit Nicolas, starting it in the 1950s, but he is best known for his posterlike illustrations, usually drawn from a distant or high viewpoint depicting detailed countrysides or cities. – Wikipedia

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 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?