From Iceland — An Open Letter Regarding Saturday's Death

An Open Letter Regarding Saturday’s Death

Published December 20, 2010

An Open Letter Regarding Saturday’s Death

Saturday night, one of Norðurmýri’s worst nightmares materialized. Unfortunately, I had a front row seat. A man was struck and killed by an automobile while crossing the intersection at Snorrabraut and Bergþórugata just before 5 pm. I raced out my door to the violent shrills of woman, a crumpled car, and a river of blood flowing into the gutters. I was expecting my pregnant wife home at any moment, crossing that very intersection. My heart dropped to the street as I ran towards the body opposite me. Despite the tragedy, Snorrabraut’s wall of racing cars persisted, thwarting my desperate attempt to reach the casualty, and yielding only to the swift arrival of an ambulance. The response time of the medics was faster than waiting for a walk signal. Praise to the paramedics of Reykjavík. My deepest condolences to the family and friends of the victim.
I bear a burden of guilt in this misfortune. After moving to Norðurmýri, on the corner of Karlagata and Snorrabraut, I quickly realized the hazards of this thoroughfare; it is not simply a widened road, but a four lane Autobahn bisecting a residential neighbourhood. By the time traffic reaches Bergþórugata, cars and buses are in the upwards of 75 km/h.
We kept our cats indoors. Each morning we observed a little boy around the age of six crossing Snorrabraut on school days (there are two schools on the opposite side of the road). At first, it was amusing to watch him diligently wait for the crossing light to turn green, and then, out of a sprinter’s position, courageously dart across the road with his oversized backpack trying to outrace the green safety light. Most days he would, but only by a footstep.
So I decided to time the light: the green crosswalk lasts for 8.8 seconds to cross a four-lane highway before the traffic resumes. I am an athletic adult, walking at a brisk pace on dry pavement takes me 10 seconds to cross (add an additional 4 seconds with ice or snow). It takes my pregnant wife nearly double. The burden of guilt is that I recognized this problem over a year ago. I began to draft a letter to the City Council in English, but thought I should wait until I could pen it in Icelandic for it to be more effective or even considered.
Well, it can not wait. My neighbourhood can not wait for another senseless manslaughter. Norðurmýri is a family neighbourhood. Children cross Snorrabraut daily to reach their schools or Sundhöllin or the candy store. Why are they only given 8.8 seconds? Why does Snorrabraut even need to be four lanes between Miklabraut and Hlemmur? After a year of observation, I can not find a necessity for four lanes of traffic to be directed through the centre of residential Reykjavik. If there must a road, then one speed enforced lane per direction is plenty. Two lanes, and it becomes a dragstrip.
After adjusting the fractional time allowances to cross intersections, I would like to ask the City of Reykjavík to put pedestrians first and replace the centre two lanes of Snorrabraut between Miklabraut and Hlemmur with a grass reservation, and perhaps one day flowers in memoriam to the man who just lost his life.
Ryan Parteka

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Enough. Stop. Now.

Enough. Stop. Now.


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