Learning from the best: Study visit to Trafikverket


Just before writing this entry I came across the most appropriate article by The Economist, given the subject. It seems that, while Sweden has reached a record low in deaths by traffic accident, my country, the Dominican Republic, holds the record for the deadliest traffic in the world.

And although I haven’t been able to experience the safety of Swedish roads very often, I did have the opportunity to learn from the best last week. As a part of the Urban Traffic Planning course, we had a study visit to the Trafikverket (The Swedish Transport Administration) responsible for the western part of Sweden. Trafikverket is the agency in charge of the long-term planning of the transport system, including road, rail, maritime and air traffic; as well as the construction, operation and maintenance of road and railway networks. It also administers the granting of driving licenses.

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As a part of the visit, we had a brief presentation summing up Trafikverket’s work in numbers. Under the motto of “Everyone shall arrive in a smooth, green and secure way”, daily figures of 4.5 million cars, 0.95 million bus passengers and an almost equally large number of 0.9 million cyclist are handled by the Transport Administration.

This was followed by a lecture regarding the large-scale problem of traffic accidents, which explained how the swedes have reached the very low number of 264 deaths per year: Vision Zero is “the image of a future in which no one will be killed or seriously injured in traffic accidents”. Since 1997 Trafikverket has made part of their vision that it is not ethically acceptable for people to be injured in the road transport system. It is taken into account that humans can always make mistakes while driving, which leaves the system designers with the responsibility to make roads safe enough to buffer these unavoidable errors.

The last lecture went deeper into the various measures that have been implemented in roads, intersections and pedestrian crossings, and the reduction in deaths produced by them. I was the most impressed by the use of cables as median barriers; these steel cables have the ability of completely re-tracking a vehicle that has collided against them, preventing the car from going into another lane or into cliffs.

And finally, after the omnipresent tradition of Fika, we were shown the coolest room inside the building – the Traffic Monitoring Center.

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This is where the most exciting things take place. Similar to a vital signs monitor, a constant beep accompanies the labor of traffic monitoring. This gives the right impression that in case of alarm, there is no time to take the wrong decision. The people who work there have to act fast and take the necessary measures whenever an emergency happens.

A number of screens are used to observe the roads and every single meter of tunnel in south west Sweden. The department also has a constant inflow and outflow of information with several authorities. The data obtained is made available to GPS devices and updates are continuously given to the radio, assistance cars, maintenance contractors and the police. At the same time they receive constant updates from the weather forecast authorities that allow them to predict, prevent and manage possible dangers in the roads.

I would dare to say that, along with the technical knowledge and endeavor to ensure traffic safety, a cozy and visually stimulating working environment must also have something to do with the good performance of this agency. The offices were indeed colorful and attractive; one of my favorite spots was the floating futuristic office shown below.

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As you can probably perceive in the tone of this post, the study visit was very exciting for me. Along the next few weeks you can expect a couple of more articles regarding this course… there’s a lot of interesting stuff happening in it!

All pictures taken by Po-Yuan Wang