From Iceland — In Response To The City’s Findings

In Response To The City’s Findings

Published January 24, 2011

In Response To The City’s Findings

Dear City officials,
I was told by the Mayor’s office that you would personally attend to this dire traffic situation immediately. I know these matters take time, and so I was expecting a follow up letter from you sometime after the New Year’s hangover had worn off and politics resumed. Instead, I received a telephone call early this morning from the press. The man asked if I read the news story in Fréttablaðið, ‘Umferðarljósunum verður ekki breytt’ (“The traffic lights will not be changed”). I had just finished reading the article when he telephoned, and unfortunately he got an earful of my unfiltered stream of rage before I had the chance to brew a second cup of coffee, take a morning jog, and meditate on the matter.
Immediately following the senseless vehicular manslaughter on that fateful December 18th afternoon, our neighbourhood was outraged. Knowing the danger of this particular intersection, I wrote an open letter to the Reykjavík City Council expressing my guilt, remorse, and demand for a change. Of the news agencies that were CC’d the open letter, The Reykjavík Grapevine was the only one to publish. For reference, here is their link.
Based on the response, it sounded like the danger was well known to the city, and that immediate action would be taken. First, the light would be inspected and corrected. Second, possible consideration would be given to the reduction of Snorrabraut back to its original two lanes, or at least a reduction in speed. The widening of Snorrabraut was the first step of a failed and abandoned general city plan initiated in the 1960s by a Danish consultancy. The centre two lanes were actually green grass prior to its Haussmanisation. Our eventual hopes for Snorrabraut would be a reduction similar to that of Langahlíð. Curious, I wonder which city official living on Langahlíð initiated that speed and lane reduction for their neighbourhood? Like Langahlíð, there is no need for a four-lane highway bisecting our residential neighbourhood; a neighbourhood consisting of several elementary schools, a hospital, a swimming pool, a home for the elderly and a revitalised theatre.
So, what standards of measurement is Stefán Agnar Finnsson referring to [in Fréttablaðið]? Obviously not ones that favour the pedestrian. Perhaps if the traffic on Snorrabraut actually drove at 30 km/h (opposed to the current posted speed limit of 50 km/h), then perhaps the elderly and school children would actually have a fighting chance to safely cross according to his “standards”.  But the average vehicle speed is not 50 km/h. Cars are travelling in the upwards of 70-80 km/h once they reach Bergþórugata. This is the problem. When all lights are green on Snorrabraut- from Hlemmur to Hringbraut – then this section becomes a four-lane highway in a residential neighbourhood.
The metrics:
The walk light at Snorrabraut and Bergþórugata is currently green for 8.8 seconds before turning red. The average adult male walks at a rate of 1.25 m/s in average conditions. This intersection is 20 metres wide. 8.8 seconds places the average pedestrian 11 metres into the intersection in the centre of the centre lane. If December’s victim (a fifty-year old male in good health) was walking from Karlagata across Snorrabraut to Bergþórugata at this average rate, then 11 metres places him precisely in the position where I saw the body lay.
Then there is what is called “evacuation time”. It has a pedestrian friendly ring to it, right? This is the time after the crosswalk light turns red before traffic resumes, and like I mentioned before, four lanes of traffic can already be racing in the upwards of 80 km/h once reaching this intersection. Currently, the evacuation time is 12 seconds.
So, for example: A healthy male adult sees a green crosswalk and decides to cross Snorrabraut. The pavement is dry. He walks at an average rate of 1.25 m/s. He attempts to cross just as the light changes red. What are his options? Retreat backwards? Proceed to the 25cm “safety” island and wait? Or continue crossing? If he continues crossing like most people would, the evacuation time will expire at his average adult pace and the automobile will be given the all clear green flag to resume their race. Now, what if this was a child?
This is not a math problem people! This is our community, our citizens, our elders, our children. Why do we need a four-lane highway bisecting residential Reykjavík? Why is a machine given preference over a person? Do we want more blood on our hands?
Ryan Parteka

A note from The Grapevine: Ryan Parteka says that he CC’d us on this letter he sent to Reykjavík City officials earlier today because “Grapevine was the first and only newspaper to express concern.” He furthermore suggested that we mention the great response his initial open letter garnered. “Judging by that, it’s not just me that’s ready for action – there are hundreds of concerned people out there.”

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