Traffic Jam (JB)

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julianabjornsdottir_dlTraffic continues to be excessive on the streets of Reykjavík. On weekday afternoons cars queue up one after another, most of which are carrying but one passenger.

Believe it or not, there was a time my husband and I lived in the suburbs—the established residential area of Árbær to be precise.

From 2007 to 2008, we got up together in the morning in our small but overpriced rental flat and I drove my husband to his work on Austurvöllur in the heart of downtown Reykjavík and myself to the University of Iceland.

We were careful not to make too many trips back and forth as the journey covers a distance of estimated 20 kilometers, if not more.

The bus route from Árbær to the center would have required several stops along the way, and it seemed unnecessarily time-consuming to use the bus on a daily basis, when we could ride to town and home together.

However, we soon discovered in the early months of 2008 that with rising petrol prices we could probably save a lot of money if we moved closer to our places of work. So we moved to the quaint residential area of Vesturbær, or the Westside.

Our Westside story commenced with a great economic collapse. We moved in to a lovely ground floor flat on October 5 and the next day, Iceland’s banking system fell to the ground like a round of dominos.

But somehow we survived and within days, we barely remembered life in the suburbs. I could walk to my classes at the University of Iceland in the morning and easily walk home for lunch in-between classes.

My husband’s work was a five-minute drive from our house, albeit in hindsight I realize it would have been just as easy for him to walk to work in less than 20 minutes. But since we rarely used the car except for grocery shopping, we figured it was fine.

From 2008 to 2011, the dreadful afternoon traffic was but a story other people told us in passing. We enjoyed a luxurious car-free existence.

Well, we almost did. The only time we really needed a car was when we moved from the ground floor flat to the third floor flat we still call home. After all, it does have a view to die for.

Then in the autumn of 2011 my husband’s department was transferred to another office in the Mjódd mall, five minutes away from our old place in Árbær.

Oh, the irony of our reversed circumstances.

At first, I got up with my husband in the morning to drive him to his work and back home for my morning shower.

You see, as a resident of non-European descent (he’s from South Africa) he is required to re-take his driver’s license to be permitted to drive in Iceland; a costly procedure.

The drive in the morning is awful albeit we do escape the worst of it, that is, the traffic heading into downtown Reykjavík. For some time, this became my morning routine and if I had an early class, my husband had an even earlier start.

Then his work started to offer employees to purchase a bus pass valid for a year at a time on a discount. Of course, we jumped at the opportunity, especially since the bus stop is oh-so-close for comfort, a mere half a minute’s walk from our house.

But when my husband started his Master’s degree in Investment Management at the University of Reykjavík, it became necessary to drive him to class at least once a week in the afternoon. That way, he can optimize his work hours and still make it on time to class.

I generally don’t like driving so you can just imagine my pain when I discovered the afternoon traffic had only gotten worse.

Regardless of the rising petrol price and the subsequent increase of bus passengers, many still choose to drive home from work, and quite a few travel solo.

Now that the semester is over for my husband, I don’t have to do the afternoon pick-up and I like it.

But is there a solution to the congested traffic and the deeply rooted traffic culture in Iceland?

According to Statistics Iceland, 204,736 vehicles for one to eight passengers were registered toward the end of 2010. At the same time the population of Iceland was 318,236.

That means roughly one and a half car per person.

The numbers are ridiculously high. I dare say, very few countries can “boast” a number that high in vehicle ownership.

Getting stuck in congested traffic has rendered me the spare time to ponder the problem, although my solution is still one of utopian descent.

It got me thinking about my experiences during the time I lived in London.

What I loved the most about it was the fantastic transport system. I chose to live on the outskirts of the city in a borough called North-Finchley in High Barnet.

It took me about half an hour to get to the city center with the tube on a good day, and up to an hour on a bad day, but with a good book in hand I didn’t mind it.

Every Monday morning, a number of residents from nearby communities would drive to my local tube station, Woodside Park, park their vehicles in a closed-off parking area and head to the tube like the rest of us. The same applies to many other boroughs on the outskirts of London.

I wonder if this is a foreseeable solution for the future of transport in Reykjavík. If the suburbs had access to parking near larger bus stops such as the one in Mjódd, could we bid farewell to congested traffic?

I think we’d at least see a positive change toward a greener future.

It’s possible some routes might have to be re-organized to increase efficiency but in the long run we’d increase the quality of life in our little super-congested city.

But then again, is Iceland ready to surrender the freedom of a personalized car for longer commutes?

I know I am. The Reykjavík buses have wi-fi, comfortable seats and the distances are not long in comparison to the bus ride from North Finchley to the parts of London most people recognize as the city center.

So why not enjoy the ride to work with a book in hand, an iPad or a laptop to pass the half an hour from one end of town to the other?

Júlíana Björnsdóttir – julianabjornsdottir@gmail.com

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.