A Few Thoughts About Walking, Biking, and Driving in Stockholm

I read a post by Kate, former Expat blogger extraordinaire (see Archives), in which she said she was much more likely (as a pedestrian) to be hit by a bicycle in Sweden than a car. I have to agree with her—pedestrians and bicyclists are constantly doing battle where I live and work in Stockholm.

I find that Stockholm motorists are, in general, pretty good about stopping for pedestrians, albeit grudgingly. If you step into the crosswalk and make eye contact with the oncoming driver, they will stop. Probably. But the cyclists going by will not stop so you always have to watch yourself. It’s tricky because you are still in the crosswalk, blocking the car that wants to continue but you are waiting for the oncoming bicyclist who’s going to hit you if you don’t wait. It’s like a 3-way game of “chicken.”

exit tunnel in Stockholm

It’s hard to see people’s faces on the dark, winter streets…Photo by K.Lund

 

Swedish law says that both motorists and cyclists must yield to pedestrians, but what are you gonna do?

Cyclists
There are many cyclists on the Stockholm streets even now that it’s freezing cold. The diehards even put winter tires and studded tires on their bikes so they can ride them over snow and ice. Whoa! That’s hardcore. I feel good if I just walk to work. I could never bike on icy streets.

There are bikes locked up everywhere. Sometimes they’re in surprising places—locked to highway overpasses, for example. Many bikes have baskets and people seem to find it convenient to throw their trash in parked bicycle’s baskets rather than in trash receptacles. It must be a bummer to go out to unlock your bike and find it full of trash. Maybe it’s pedestrians getting some payback for the near-death experiences.

Pedestrians
And speaking of payback, Stockholm motorists probably have a beef with pedestrians who are not, dare I say it, guilt-free in this situation. I, myself, like to wait for the crosswalk light but I see that many, many Stockholmers don’t. It probably drives motorists nuts. I often see what I privately call the “Mr. Magoo syndrome.” Ever see Mr. Magoo  cartoons? I couldn’t find one on YouTube in which he is crossing the street…but it’s a typical thing for the myopic and oblivious Mr. Magoo to do. He has terrible vision so he is always mistaking one thing for another and walking right through danger without realizing it. My fellow pedestrians often do this. Their vision is probably fine but they all seem to be on the phone so they are oblivious to everything else.

And exactly to whom is everyone talking to on their cell phone, on the street? I can never think of someone I need to call immediately while I am out walking. I have come to the conclusion that one half of the people on the Stockholm streets are talking to the other half of the people on the Stockholm streets. It’s the only explanation.

And of course everyone is on the phone in every other major city as well. I just wish, with my “rose-colored glasses” view of Sweden, that it was less true here.

tunnel

Here’s the inside of a pedestrian and bicycle tunnel between Stureplan and Sveavägen. It’s nice to use this tunnel on cold, dark nights although it does remind me of the revolving “Abomitable Snowman” tunnel at Universal Studios…Photo by K. Lund

 

Darkness
It’s dark in Stockholm, getting darker every day. The length of time between sunrise and sunset diminishes by a half hour in this week, the week of November 7, 2012. Before I moved here, I believed that Swedes made up for the darkness by having lots of lights on. Yes, they do put lights and candles in the windows at this time of year but not as much as I would think. And there are not extra streetlights or anything like that. It is actually quite dark with lots of shadows and unlit spots. You can’t see people’s faces when you pass them on the street after sunset. Everyone’s has black coats and shadowed faces. And sunset is at 3:24pm on November 14th, for example, so it gets dark early.

Stockholm sunrise schedule

Sunrise and Sunset schedule for Stockholm, Sweden. www.timeanddate.com

 

I like the darkness. I like shadow. And Stockholm is not a scary or unsafe city so I don’t feel worried. (Though it helps that I almost always have my dog with me, too, and if she doesn’t see sense anything to worry about then I know there’s nothing hiding behind, say, that tree.) Still, it’s strange when your dog meets another dog in the dark, dark park and the dogs can barely see each other. But I’ll blog about pitch-black dog meetups on another day.

Reflect!
It’s time for the reflectors and lights to come out again. People attach all kinds of reflectors to their backpacks and their coats. Some people have them attached to the pocket of their coat so they can tuck it away when they are inside a building or a train station or the like. Bicycles are required to have a front and back light—many use the battery-free kind that take energy from the turning tires. Even Rabbit the dog has reflecting strips on her rain jacket and a light that hangs from her collar…

reflex

Here’s a few hand-me-down reflectors a friend gave me for my clothes. Too cool for school. I know!

 

  • Monica-USA

    Kristin what you really need is a Neon-Green vest like what people wear for walking or riding their bikes?! :o ) Great story that pedestrian tunnel reminds me of the scene from the Six Million Dollar Man with Lea Majors and the Sasquatch in the tunnel. :o ) Enjoy lighting your candles.

    • http://blogs.sweden.se/work/ Kristin Lund

      Totally agree! That’s the tunnel at Universal Studios I was talking about. I remember that episode!

  • Anita Ersson

    Cyclists in Sweden scare me. I feel a sudden shiver of terror run down my spine whenever I hear a bicycle bell while I’m out walking. Very well written.