the Obama effect

I would be very much surprised if Barack Obama and Fredrik Reinfeldt discussed liveable cities, bicycle commuting and the absolute absurdness of tiny narrow sidewalks in city centres but I’m pretty sure they did not bring these subjects up over diner.

The Obama Effect

And that is very unfortunate considering what Stockholmers and newspapers keep talking about since the City of Stockholm returned to its former self: The Obama Effect1.

The Obama Effect (also known as Circus Obama) is a paradoxical reaction observed in Stockholm for the first time in September 2013. Motorised traffic was limited and roads in the city centre were blocked to make room for Barack Obama’s bulletproof vehicle and better ensure his safety (???). Thanks to the King of the United Kingdoms of Carmerica Stockholmers had the chance to enjoy, for a short while, a city where public spaces were for people and not for cars; a city where it was, for a change, possible to breath clean air.

Unfortunately good things don’t last forever and there ain’t no such thing as car-free days2 in Stockholm even though 70% of the population (who reads Dagens Nyheter online) would like to see that happen. 70%. Seventy percent. Four of the seven political parties in Sweden are also in favour of one yearly car-free day and that number will probably increase as the next general election (in 2014) gets closer.

Car free day in Stockholm?
Should Stockholm be car-free once a year? 70% says YES

And yet the City of Stockholm doesn’t seem to be concerned by the opinion of its citizens and while other cities around the world will celebrate the now traditional car-free day, there is nothing planned for September 22 in a city which was awarded the first European Green Capital title in 2010.

But things could change and will hopefully change before 101% of the population and 8 of the 7 political parties can’t take it anymore. Otherwise I’ve already recorded a distress call: “Help us, Barack Obama. You’re our only hope.”

Note. When the post was published almost 10,000 people had answered the poll and the result is still the same, 70% says YES to a car-free day.



yes we can

In case you hadn’t heard the President of the United States of America of Planet Earth (Barack Obama I think his name is) was in town for a couple of hours! Mr. Obama and a couple of hundred friends with sunglasses met with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and probably attended some other important matters but that’s what politicians do and I quite frankly don’t care.

On the other hand I was very much looking forward to seeing Stockholm City Centre in a new light with limited motorised traffic and complete parts of the city turned into cyclists and pedestrians only zones. The City of Stockholm does not seem to take many actions to accommodate the ever growing number of people who commute by bike each and every day (remember the one hundred metre white line on Götgatsbackan? Well my little girl has yet to work on it!) but when Circus Obama comes to town it’s a whole different story.

Circus Obama in Stockholm, Sweden

We’re anticipating a chaotic situation,” Anna Ekberg, spokeswoman at Trafik Stockholm, told The Local. “Lots of roads in the city centre will be blocked, there will be traffic jams.”
“You better not take the car, but go by bus or take the metro,” she said, adding that Stockholm’s public transportation system might get crowded as well.
The main roads between the Arlanda airport, north of the capital, and central Stockholm will be closed off as Obama’s motorcade heads in town to meet with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and other political leaders.
Areas including Nybrokajen, Hamngatan, the city centre, Gamla stan, and the area around the royal palace will be totally closed off to traffic.
Ekberg at the Transport Administration believes even commuters will feel the sting.
“If you don’t need to go to the city centre, you shouldn’t do it,” Ekberg said, adding with a laugh that those working in the city might be better to take the day off work. – Stockholm braces for Obama traffic circus

And it probably has been the best 24 hours cyclists and pedestrians have had for a very long time. Cyclists could ride on the streets, pedestrians could jaywalk as much as they wanted and, cherry on top, breath much cleaner air! Thanks to Circus Obama motorised traffic decreased by 40% for a couple of hours and, as a result, Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) emissions decreased by 30%1 on Sveavägen!

Wait. Could toxic emissions be linked to motorised traffic? Could we make Stockholm’s air cleaner just by reducing the number of cars and trucks in the streets and have people walk, ride bicycles and take public transportation instead? There was a way to verify that theory with the World Carfree Day coming up soon and so I asked the City of Stockholm.

Yes we can or… we could but regular people with regular jobs don’t get to live in a carfree city and breath clean air. I’m afraid we’d all have to work in a travelling circus for that to happen. Hope you enjoyed the show because… it’s over. Applause.