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January 06, 2006

The Stockholm Syndrome

This will be fun to watch:  the city of Stockholm, Sweden is starting a trial run of a congestion pricing scheme that would make drivers pay about $7.50 per day to drive into downtown.  London has a similar, though considerably pricier, system:  drivers now have to pay about $14 to get into downtown London.  But Londoners have been surprisingly supportive, since the fees have made a considerable dent in congestion, while transit service has been increased to help people get into downtown if they choose not to drive.

Although the London congestion pricing system has been largely successful, the prospects for Stockholm may be murkier. Stockholm apparently faces nowhere near as much congestion as London -- and polling shows that despite Stockholm's green reputation, the tolls are pretty unpopular.  Plus, it's a short-term trial, so city residents may not have as much time to adjust their driving habits -- which may mean that they won't have as much time to see whether travel times really improve as much as they did in London.  Both of those factors could make the Stockholm experiment fall flat -- and make voters less likely to approve an extension of the system in a fall election. 

Of course, even if Stockholm voters reject congestion pricing, it wouldn't mean that the idea has no merit -- London's experience shows that it can be a popular policy.  But if the system does get nixed by Stockholm's voters, it could make other cities think twice about how (and whether) to use road pricing to ease congestion.

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Comments

even cooler are the Dutch towns where no one is allowed to drive downtown. It's been a few years since I lived in NL (I lived in Leiden, which had a few no-car streets, but nothing major), but I seem to remember that Delft, Gouda, and a few other towns had pedestrian downtown areas. These areas were all small enough to get around with bikes or on foot. Ringing downtown were several (usually pay) car parking lots for those who drove to the town. I always loved the car-free areas b/c I didn't have to worry about watching so much while I was on my bike.

Posted by: Leah | Jan 9, 2006 12:56:39 PM

I know what you mean about European pedestrian malls, Leah.

One of the things I love about Heidelberg, Germany is its 1/2 mile long pedestrian mall filled with quaint shops, galleries, boutiques, and cafes.

Unfortunately, pedestrian malls don't always translate well in American cities, as we recently found out here in Eugene, Oregon. After 30 years, Eugene's downtown pedestrian mall re-opened to traffic in order to bring vibrancy back to the downtown area. We're now in the process of trying to find the right urban mix of businesses, shops, people, and cars. It's interesting to see this creative process unfold!

Eugene's not the only American city to have re-opened it's downtown streets, however, according to this interesting article from Boulder, Colorado's DailyCamera.com, published July, 18, 2002:

http://web.dailycamera.com/pearl/19xwor.html

And here's wishing Stockholm all the best with it's congestion pricing scheme. If it can work in London (and Singapore as well), then I'm sure it can work in Stockholm. And chances are, given this trial run, the Swedes might come up with an even better idea for reducing traffic congestion with their world-renown ingenuity.


Posted by: Michelle Parker | Jan 9, 2006 5:38:02 PM

I wish I knew *why* pedestrian malls don't translate well so I could know how to fix it. I think a big part of it is a deep-seated cultural bias toward exercise (okay, cheap shot, but you know what I mean). People will do it indoors (ie the mall), but it's hard to get people outside to walk around and enjoy the shops.

Really makes me wish I could just move to Europe. I'm in the process of getting a PhD, and I'm hoping that some European university will want to hire me.

Posted by: Leah | Jan 9, 2006 7:20:36 PM