Cars vs. People? A Story About Stockholm's New Bypass

Recently the Swedish government has given green light to a 30 Billion SEK (and counting) bypass project, west to the city of Stockholm. It is a 21 KM track that mostly runs through tunnels. In this time of emphasis on human scale, cycle/walkability and reduction of car use, it is not surprising that this project is heavily criticized and debated.

The planned route (the dotted lines are tunnels). Maps by Trafikverket (Click to find more interesting maps on the bypass)

The planned route (the dotted lines are tunnels). Maps by Trafikverket (Click to find more interesting maps on the bypass)

Those who think the project is needed argue that the current system is not sufficient. The current infrastructure is old and small interruptions lead to large delays, which result in more pollution and financial losses. Building the bypass would also improve the possibility for new fast bus connections between the south and north side. Many urban centers around Stockholm city are growing fast, especially in the north, making room for the predicted 350 thousand residents new residents in the Greater Stockholm Area. The bypass is said to integrate these new centers better in the current system.

On the the hand of the debate there are the people against the project, among them many traffic researchers and planning bloggers. They say that the bypass is far too expensive, arguing that the project’s budget could be spent much more effectively on alternative infrastructure, like public transit, walkability and cycling. They stress that an increase of motorway will increase car use, leading to a more polluted city, which will make it harder to reach the current climate goals.

When it comes to politics, it is mostly the Miljöpartiet (Sweden’s Green party) which is against the bypass. The other parties all seem to want, or accept, the project in one way or another. Of course there are varying opinions within all parties, the most stunning example of that is just that Miljöpartiet. According to an opinion poll of a renowned Swedish newspaper, the party has as many members against the bypass as it has people who are in favor of it (42% vs 42%). And even more important conclusion of that same opinion poll is that a clear majority of the people in Stockholm County are in favor of the new bypass (an average of 72%).

Now that the decision is final, thinking about solutions that can increase the usage of public transport through the bypass, seem to be more fruitful than to just stubbornly criticize the entire project. Therefore I welcome ideas like that of Erika Ullberg (Social Democrats), who advocates for creating a priority lane for buses. Maybe that idea can even be extended, by creating more priority bus lanes in the center, stimulating electric driving and incorporating apps like Zoof (Dutch video).

From a planner's point a view the bypass debate is a hard one. Many of our ideas and buzzwords are based on reducing car traffic, but also on listening to the public. This debate made us believe we had to choose between those two, although the world is not black and white. It doesn't seem strange that in a fast growing capital city an outdated road system is being updated. We need to invest in all facets of infrastructure, also roads, however, while emphasizing on human-scale solutions. Yes, the project is expensive, but there are also large scale investments made in walkability, bicycle infrastructure, and public transportation.

Written by Sascha Benes. Follow him on Twitter, Linkedin and .