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Category: Transit (page 1 of 2)

Travel Highlights


A clock in the terminal at the Frankfurt airport.


I was delayed 13 hours on my way back to Stockholm after the holidays. I got the opportunity to sit on the runway in DC for two hours and to hang out inside the Frankfurt airport for ten hours.


A fancy sign from my arrival in Kentucky before the holidays.

Swedish autumn by train


Swedish autumn by train

Liljeholmen


One of Stockholm’s filthy, disgusting, dangerous subway stations.

Driving in Crete

 

Really?

Really? Saxophone on the subway?

Here’s a hundred to shut the hell up.

Guten Morgen!

Guten Morgen!

I’m switching planes in Germany this morning on my way to, um, Poland. I’d much rather be staying here in Berlin.

It is truly impressive how Germany smells when you walk into the airport. I think they must plan it so everyone gets a waft of freshly-baked pretzels and pastries as soon as they arrive.

“French” “Mustard”

Iida is enjoying some “French” “mustard” on the way to see Spiritualized.

Fall colors

Filmstaden

Ran into Liv Ullman and Max Von Sydow in the subway near Filmstaden.

Jäkla tåget. Jag ska gå istället.

Dang train. I’ll walk instead.

That sphere is the Globe Arena. It’s shaped like a globe.

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A Picture of a Boat

In the Tunnelbana station with regular people

After all the excitement at the Guldknappen fashion awards, Emily’s dress continues to sparkle in the Tunnelbana station. There’s no red carpet here and we’re surrounded by “normals.” Eww.

No dining car on this train?

No dining car on this train? Where’s a gentleman to take a drink?

World’s most awesome rental car

World’s most awesome rental car. Too bad we didn’t bring any good tapes.

Here’s our 300 kr/day rental car (about $45) on the ferry crossing from the main island of Gotland to beautiful Fårö, en route to Ingmar Bergman’s neighborhood.

Alternate Reality Check

Is this thing on? Can you hear me? Testing, testing…

Today’s report is being broadcast to you all the way from Kentucky, in the heart of God’s Great United States.

After finishing up a European tour with my band Metroschifter last month, I returned to my hometown of Louisville. A medium-sized city of just under a million people – bigger than Göteborg and smaller than Stockholm – Louisville is the 16th or 27th largest metro area in America, depending on who you ask.

It hasn’t been entirely unpleasant to be back in America. I totally love seeing my friends and family again.

As I’ve said before, no wonder everyone in America is fat, the food is amazing. After many months in Sweden, I had quickly forgotten that in other places of the world it is actually quite affordable to just eat and drink all day long. Gaining back the weight I lost in Sweden could prove to be an effortless endeavor. Oops, I did it again.

My brother at Impellizzeri’s in Louisville

If it’s wrong to only eat burritos, deep dish pizza, Kentucky bourbon, microbrews and espresso, then maybe, for now, I don’t want to be right.

The nearest Ikea and H&M are about 90 minutes away by car, but Louisville has more amazing Mexican food in just a few blocks than the whole of Sweden does. Louisville’s bars are open until 4:00 in the morning. The liquor stores are the polar opposite of Systembolaget and are open nearly as late as the bars.

As the capital of Kentucky’s Bourbon Country, with bars offering one-dollar beers and $1.50 mixed drinks, and the CityScoot service that will drive you home in your own car if you drink too much, Louisville is a city that essentially dares you not to become an alcoholic.

Compared to Stockholm, everything here is half price. Maybe it’s even less.

They couldn’t just put up one sign that
says “All Yoplait yogurt 59¢”

Nothing is subtle in America. Everything is in your face. People are shouting as their normal tone of voice. The music from headphones, car stereos and your neighbors can be heard far outside the reasonable realm of what could pass as personal entertainment. Everything is extreme and awesome and retarded and made of flashing lights. Religion is actually a topic that people think is a good idea to bring up.

This place is loud in every possible meaning of the word.

As soon as you get off the plane in Boston (or Chicago or Atlanta or wherever), you immediately notice that the people are sloppy. Clothes are draped over these people like bibs and tarps. Sure, the Snuggie commercials are funny, but you wouldn’t see them on television unless there were actually millions of people who were lazy, messy and resigned enough to buy them. A blanket with sleeves is designed only for people who refuse to get out from under the covers, even when nature demands that they use their arms or legs.

Just the size of the people in America is absurd. They’re wearing sweatpants and sports shoes but it’s obvious that these garments – designed for exercising – are not serving their intended purposes.

Americans look tired and agitated.

Air travel is not pleasant to begin with, but I don’t think that’s the culprit. People in European airports don’t look like this. After almost a year away from the United States, my first impression upon seeing a crowd of Americans was that they all looked exhausted. As a group, this first batch of Americans in the Boston airport looked like they barely had the energy to give a shit about anything.

Why would anyone care? The planes were late, the food was expensive, the kids were misbehaving, the lines were unreasonable, the security checks and announcements were the demeaning equivalent of a cattle drive, the fake executive asshole with the earpiece was talking way too loudly about business meetings and golf. Unrewarding.

Chicago’s charming Logan Square subway station

When I finally made it to the public transit system in Chicago – nearly half a day later than scheduled and without my luggage – that place had a the charm of a prison train. At one point I stood up and faked like I was stretching, just to make sure I wasn’t actually chained to the seat.

Stockholm’s transit system can spoil its riders pretty quickly. I got used to it right away and fell into its comfort and convenience. Like everything in Sweden, from taxes to transit, it’s expensive, but you really get what you pay for.

La Bamba Restaurant: “Burritos As Big As Your Head”

Outside the airport on the city streets, people are exercising everywhere, presumably running away from the food they eat. It’s an endless tug of war in which the food supply is so packed with artificial sweeteners, preservatives and genetically-modified ingredients that you basically have to exercise in order to not become obese.

Every wall and surface is plastered with signs, advertisements and businesses that are designed to appeal to a fourth grader’s mentality. “You deserve the best.” “Go ahead, have another!” “America is number one and nobody is gonna take that away.” “Whatever. It’ll grow back.” I’m exaggerating, but only a little.

There is no self-awareness in graphic design. Professionally-produced signs are littered with spelling and grammatical errors. The fonts in widespread usage betray the fact that there is often no delineation between graphic design and desktop publishing. Any jackass with Microsoft Word can make a sign. It’s great that everyone can make their own signs, but it’s a shame that everyone does. Comic Sans isn’t even the worst offense.

“Y’all got any Tide? Well where the hell is it?”

Ikea has made the Swedish word “lagom” famous, but the concept of “just the right amount” is a hard sell here. Explaining the word “lagom” to Americans takes five minutes because there’s simply no equivalent – not just in the language, but in the national psyche.

How can I say this delicately and believably? I love America, I really do. But seeing her again is like running into an old ex-girlfriend who has gained 100 pounds, a drug problem and a mountain of debt. Her beautiful eyes are still the same color, but they’ve lost that sparkle that made them special. You’ll always remember her as an important part of your life, but trying to help save her might take more energy than you could possibly muster.

When I first considered going to Sweden longterm, it was partially as a result of that feeling. After an exhausting fight to become a candidate to represent my neigborhood in the Kentucky Senate, I had a realization. I could stay in America and fight for the rest of my life toward noble goals – goals that lobbying groups and corporations have long since claimed as unattainable – or I could just move somewhere where everything is already fixed.

I understand that there are many Swedes (and Americans) who will read this and disagree with that characterization, or write off this entire article as exaggeration. But honestly, after about a year on the ground in Sweden, it seems at this point, the things being argued about in Swedish politics amount to fine tuning.

When the populace has elected someone from a political party whose sole objective is to protect privacy rights and repeal patent and copyright laws, well, things must be going pretty well.

Comparatively, the problems in the United States are insurmountable. The number of people in Sweden without homes, jobs, sufficient health care or the ability to read is negligible. In America, these problems claim millions of victims.

It was no easy decision to opt out of Louisville and America, even if my absence was to be brief or temporary. The people in Kentucky and the rest of the country desperately need fighters who care about the individuals and disregard the bidding of special interests. Leading up to the election in 2008, I tried to give that fight as much as I had in me. In the end, though, I don’t want to fight.

Louisville protesters demonstrating against a
construction site that has blocked the sidewalk. Pedestrians
and cyclists seem to be an afterthought in the streetscape.

I can’t kill myself for the sake of objectives that are taller than all of us. Maybe Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were the kinds of guys who could do that, but at least for right now, I’m not that guy.

And to be clear, Sweden is not the cure for the common cold (though the country’s health care system has been pretty effective in eliminating all manner of other medical nonsense that Americans still receive outrageous bills for). To be honest, if I wasn’t entirely happy in America, being in Sweden instead can only do so much to affect that.

Being in America again has been fun, but I’m anxious to get back to Sweden. To that end, my application for the appropriate residence permit is finally being filed this week at the Swedish Embassy in Washington.

At first glance, this sign for training classes
appears to charge people for emergency help.

The application process toward Swedish residency is much faster if one has a written job offer from a Swedish company.

So if you’re a business person reading this, I would be delighted to work for your company in Sweden doing graphic design, web design, English writing or editing (see some samples of my work) … hell, I’m also available for toilet cleaning, umbrella repair, VCR clock setting, picnic planning, bartending. Really, whatever I can possibly do that any Swedish company may need somebody to do.

I basically have no worldly belongings, no expensive apartment on Kungsholmen, no fancy clothes or monthly bills. I would be very happy to work for less money than you’d have to pay a career professional.

My hope is to be back in Sweden as soon as humanly possible to continue writing on this site from the ground in Stockholm. Until that time, I will continue to publish new stories with regular frequency from wherever I am. My online bloggery will continue.

Street scenes

It’s another installment of pictures of regular, everyday things how they look in Sweden. This time it’s stuff on the street.


Garbage can.


Illegally-parked Corvette. Amazing. People who drive these things are jerks all over the world. What’s the Swedish word for asshole?


An old Volvo limousine.


Volvo emergency response vehicle.


Saab police car.


Police tape. Avspärrat means “closed.”


Police tape.


Tiny delivery truck from “The Chocolate Factory.”


Telephone manhole.


Water manhole.


Street sign. This street is called “Farthest-out Crossways Alley” or something like that.


The Postal Museum is at the corner of “Little New Street” and “Axe-Maker Alley.” I don’t know if that’s what Yxsmedsgrän really means, but it sounds cool, right? Anybody who has an actual translation, please feel free to let me know.


Crosswalk buttons with bike lanes and street lights in the background.

Karlaplan

Karlaplan is a picturesque area of Stockholm on the island of ֖stermalm where five major streets meet to form a star.

Inspired by similar street plans in Paris, construction on the neighborhood began in the late 1800’s.

The five tree-lined thoroughfares that go out in every direction have a dense, green lushness in the summer. Autumn and winter reveal more of the palatial, early-century apartment houses that populate the area.

Karlaplan’s name comes from an era of Swedish history known as Karlarna (“The Karls”). That was the time of a succession of three kings all named Karl that spanned from 1654 to 1718.

Mister Big Shot moves in

Famed Swedish author, playwright and absurd mustache enthusiast August Strindberg lived in a luxurious house on Karlaplan at the beginning of the 1900’s. After struggling for decades of hardship to make a success of himself, he finally rewarded himself by purchasing an extraordinary living space adjacent to the expansive plaza.

“I bought this for my thirty years of dramatic hardships,” he wrote. (Stackars Strindberg.)

See it on a map

Strindberg had spent a good deal of time in Paris in the 1890’s where he partied with Norwegian writer Knut Hamsun. (It’s true. Knut Hamsun is really a person’s name.) They probably talked about writing and stuff like that. It was only appropriate that Strindberg would be attracted to the fake Parisian neighborhood at Karlaplan.

Though Strindberg’s opulent residence was adorned with spectacular high ceilings and brilliant floors – he could practically hear the echoes of his rants about women and Jews – his fantastic surroundings couldn’t save him from despair. The eight years he and his wife lived at Karlaplan were reportedly among the darkest of his life, or so he wrote on his blog in 1911.

Aside from writing, crying and getting really bad haircuts while living at Karlaplan, Strindberg also dabbled in painting, photography and the telegraph. He was a real cutting-edge, high-tech kind of character, what, with the cameras and telegraphs laying around. In those days you couldn’t just pop down to Clas Ohlson and buy a telegraph.

As you can see in this photo, August Strindberg was definitely not a vampire.

Transformation

Long after Strindberg was gone and automobiles were increasingly dominating street traffic, a massive roundabout was put into place at the site. In the 1930’s, traffic was redirected around a central fountain and a circle of trees that enclosed a public park which still stands today. Before the fountain, a small grassy island stood in the center of the intersection with just a single tree.

You can see in the 1880’s image on the magazine cover above that the tracks of a small street train used to bisect the intersection prior to construction of the larger traffic circle and fountain.

Many residents of the area pass through this circle on their daily commutes in cars and buses or on bicycles or their own feet. The fountain at Karlaplan is a popular meeting place for friends and a spot for picnics and relaxation. As an amateur Swedish picnic planner, I am well aware of the park’s charms.


180° view of Karlaplan fountain: Click to view full size

Karlaplan Tunnelbana Station

I recently paid a visit to Karlaplan, not to check out the impressive streetscape of Parisian-inspired boulevards, but rather to see what lies beneath all of this splendor.

Carved into the bedrock below the all of the coziness at the street level is another stop in Stockholm’s underground subway system. Like most Tunnelbana stations, the one at Karlaplan is also a small art museum – an art museum 23 meters (75 feet) under the ground.


360° view from Karlaplan Tunnelbana entrance: Click to view full size

The Karlaplan station opened in the fall of 1967 and was part of an expansion that stretched the Red Line from Östermalmstorg to the northeast terminus at Ropsten. This added another 4 kilometers (2.4 miles) of track to Stockholm’s subway system and connected tens of thousands of residents to the system.

Some of the artwork in the station was built into the original design by architect Olof Blomkvist. Mosaic patterns of glazed stoneware blocks and colored bricks by artist Tor Hörlin are permanently set into the walls at more than a dozen locations throughout the station.

Located behind the benches where passengers wait for the trains, each structure is a different variation on the theme of “highly-stylized nature motifs.” The blocks differ in texture, size and relief. Some are sandy and flush with the wall, while others are glossy and protrude out a few centimeters.

The World’s Longest Photomontage

Perhaps what makes the Karlaplan station most noteworthy is that since 1983 it has been home to the world’s longest photomontage.

Artist Larseric Vänerlöf is responsible for the monstrous, black and white piece which stretches nearly the entire length of the platform, in stark contrast to the colorful brick walls it opposes.

Den Dagen och Den Sorgen (“The Day and the Sorrow”) is 96 meters long (315 feet), or as they say in America, “longer than a football field.” Little-known trivia fact: big things in America are measured in football fields.

Comprised of hundreds of black and white photos blended together, this massive photo installation was assembled the old-fashioned way in a darkroom, long before Photoshop would have streamlined the undertaking.

According to the artist, the photomontage depicts events in Sweden during the 20th Century. You might think that “during the 20th Century” would mean “during the 20th Century up through 1983” since that’s when the piece was put together. Not at all.

Vänerlöf went ahead and included the seventeen years of the 20th Century which had not yet happened. The entire montage is whimsical and funny, but the futuristic scenes depicted are downright apocalyptic and even more comical. These scenes depict familiar sites in Stockholm dwarfed by crumbling super highways and massive, post-industrial monoliths.

The gigantic photomontage was removed in 2005 for renovation. Vänerlöf explained in an interview with Filipstads Tidning newspaper that the art had faced a lot of elements in its 20-plus years hanging in the station.

The work had been badly damaged by everything from graffiti to snus, a totally disgusting, tiny, pouch-based tobacco that even the smartest people in Sweden are inexplicably hooked on.

Finally, in 2008, a reinforced version of Vänerlöf’s montage was installed in the station.

The new version contains the same images but to help it withstand the elements, perhaps for another 20 years or more, the original photographs were transferred to durable aluminum sheets that have a rich, deep gloss.

Yeah, so if you’re ever at Karlaplan, check it out. Good story.

Previous stories about art in the Stockholm transit system can be found here:

Solna Centrum

Bandhagen

Thorildsplan

Axelsberg

Medborgarplatsen

Midsommarkransen

T-Centralen Blue Line

Bagarmossen and Transit Museum

Midsommarkransen

Saltsjöbanan

Saltsjöbanan is one of Stockholm’s oldest local rail lines. The 18-station line has been operating over 115 years and covers an end-to-end distance of about 11 miles (18 km).

The line runs from the major transportation hub at Slussen in central Stockholm out to the eastern suburbs at Saltsjöbaden.

The small town of Saltsjöbaden (the Salt Sea “bath” or “beach”) sits on the shore of the Saltsjö (“Salt Lake”) and gained popularity in the 19th Century as a nearby retreat for people from Stockholm.

(My best attempt at phonetically typing out the pronunciation of Saltsjöbanan would be “SALT-hwew-BAHN-ahn” but I’m open to suggestions on that. Sjö, the word for “sea” is one of those words I have to say five times before a Swede knows what I’m talking about.)

Old Timey Train

This is one really old-timey train. Although it has been updated many times over the years – it was originally a steam train – the electric wagons now in service date back to 1948. Compared to the modern Tunnelbana subway trains, the Pendeltåg regional lines and the Tvärbanan street trains, the Saltsjöbanan line runs slower and is a quite a bit louder.

From the middle of bustling Stockholm, the route is a journey through time and topography. It tunnels through stone façades, above elevated viaducts, through neighborhoods and wooded areas, and along a number of scenic lakes before reaching one of two eastern terminuses adjacent to the open sea of Stockholm’s archipelago.

The railway opened in 1893 and originally carried freight as well as passengers. As a result, the Saltsjöbanan rides on the same wide, full-scale, normal gauge rails as a freight train.

Some stations on the line are nothing more than simple wooden platforms while others, like the major shopping center at Nacka, are a bit more elaborate. One of these basic platforms can be seen in this photo of the stop at Östervik, that you can click for a larger view.

Another platform on the line and the Saltsjöbanan railroad itself are featured in some key scenes of the 2008 film Fishy, set in the town of Fisksätra near east end of the line.

Rustic Stations

Because most of the stations are rustic and don’t have turnstiles or ticket counters, the Saltsjöbanan is one of the trains in Stockholm where a conductor almost always comes around to check tickets, making it all-the-more old timey.

A recent article in one of Stockholm’s newspapers reported that the collective transit system in the city is one of the most expensive in the world for riders. Although it seems somewhat easy to hop on a train without a ticket almost anywhere in the city – and it’s not uncommon to see someone doing so – there are hefty fines for getting caught inside a train without a valid pass. I would never dare take the risk.

Although the Saltsjöbanan is a minor route, the transit authority SL says it carries more than 15,000 passengers a day, part of what also seems to be one of the cleanest, ostensibly decorated and most efficient transit systems in existence. Last night I was waiting for a train on a different route and people were huffing and puffing because it was going to be 10 minutes later than its normal time.

180° View from the Östervik platform

Below is a 180° view from the Saltsjöbanan platform at Östervik, about midway through the route, and here is a Google Maps link showing the point where the image was taken.


Click view full size

In both the map and the panorama, you can see that there is only one set of tracks at the ֖stervik platform. Most of the entire route of the Saltsjöbanan railway was built as a single path of track that carries traffic in both directions. This means that the wagons traveling in opposite directions are timed accordingly and diverted to a set of side rails while oncoming traffic passes. This typically occurs at a handful of stations which have dual tracks or at the end stations. An additional 1-kilometer stretch between Storängen and Saltsjö-Duvnäs also has two sets of tracks that operate in opposite directions.

Last train to Clarksville

I’ve received a lot of comments and questions about my previous stories comparing the public transit systems in Louisville and Stockholm (or maybe I should I say: comparing Stockholm’s public transit system to Louisville’s lack of people trains).

Those pieces can be seen at these links: 360° View from Slussen and Slussen+8664 Revisited.

Unfortunately, I can’t write anything here as an authority on any particular subject, I can only offer observations and opinions. As far as my observations and opinions go, I am the foremost authority in the world. That is undisputed.

Nonetheless, some have contended that the contrast between the cities isn’t necessarily fair. There is a perception that Stockholm is a much larger city than Louisville. People generally use population numbers as a measure of a city’s size, and yes, Stockholm is certainly bigger, no doubt about that.

Population isn’t the only factor that comes into play when gauging the effectiveness and cost of public transit systems, so in addition to that, you also have to consider components like surface area and density.

Not only is Stockholm’s population greater than Louisville’s, it is also condensed into a much more compact area. Swedish housing is decidedly more modest and economical than its Midwestern US counterpart. In Stockholm, nearly six people live in the same amount of space that one Louisvillian occupies.

It’s not so much that Swedes are crammed into tiny boxes or that all their Ikea furniture is so sparse, it’s more so that a great deal of the land in Louisville is consumed by super-sized roadways and suburban houses that sit on half-acre plots of land. The people are simply farther apart in Kentucky.

The scale of the streets and buildings in central Stockholm dates back several centuries and much of it still reflects the proportions of those bygone eras. (Yeah, I just said “bygone eras.” Don’t worry about it. At least it wasn’t “days of yore.”)

The contrast of these dimensions is perhaps no better illustrated than by how retarded this American-size car looks in Stockholm’s old town. My apologies if the photo is a little blurry. That would be on account of me laughing so hard in disbelief upon seeing a Buick station wagon in Gamla Stan. Blowin’ my mind, man.

Since I was a kid, I have always wondered why cars like this have fake wood on them. Does anybody really believe this car is made of wood? And if they did, would that be a good thing? It seems like wood is not the smartest thing to make an automobile out of, though if you crash it you could always rebuild it with the spare lumber you have left over from remodeling your kitchen. Oh well, perhaps I’m not classy enough to recognize the prestige of driving a wooden car.

I looked this car up on the EPA website and it gets about 16 miles per gallon (that’s about 15 L/100 km). In Sweden right now, it would cost the owner more than $4 to drive ten miles (almost 30 sek for 16 km). A dollar every 2.5 miles is so much that perhaps the driver ran out of money and just left it here.

Louisville’s urban environment essentially developed over the past century. When George Rogers Clark set up the first settlement at the site of Louisville in 1778, Stockholm already had more than 500 years of rich history.

It’s not uncommon here to see rustic old buildings that recall the image of a misty ocean port, intermixed with 1800’s shop houses and modern glass-enclosed towers, all in the same glance.

If restricted to city boundaries, Stockholm’s population is only 14% larger than Louisville’s, but the metro areas are considerably different. Outside its city limits, Stockholm’s metro area grows to more than one and a half times the size of Louisville’s metro. The Swedish capital region will soon top 2 million residents, compared with Louisville’s 1.2 million inhabitants.

Here’s a complete comparison of the two cities along related topics. The homicide numbers are thrown in just for fun. (Ooh! murder! How fun!) I’m not sure if these figures include vampire-related deaths in Sweden.

Louisville
Stockholm
City Population
713,877
818,603
Metro Area Population
1,268,323
1,998,896
City Population Density
1,866/sq mi
10,144/sq
1,157/km2
6,289/km2
Automobiles per 1000 people (National avg.)
809
411
Annual homicides per 100,000 residents
14
3

The more concentrated population is an advantage for making public transit effective. Many more Stockholmers live within walking distance of a subway station than would be the case if the same transit system were magically plopped down in Louisville.

Louisvillians also have a comparatively narrower definition of “walking distance.”

If ten thousand people live within a five-minute walk to the nearest station, it makes the likelihood of people using the service much higher than if that walk were ten or fifteen minutes.

In sprawling American cities – Atlanta comes to mind – many people who use the rapid transit systems actually drive their cars to a spot where they catch the train. It’s easier and cheaper for them to navigate the urban area without a car, but the suburbs are so spread out that they don’t live near a station.

The number of automobiles per capita in the United States is the highest in the world, double the rate of ownership in Sweden. It’s not as high in Kentucky as in many other states, but the US Department of Transportation reports that 865 of every 1000 Kentuckians of driving age have a driver’s license. (See my previous story about the driver’s license process in Sweden.)

With all that in mind, I wanted to see how Stockholm’s extensive local rail system would look if it actually were plopped down in Louisville. I assembled a couple of maps.

I can’t imagine there are too many people in the world who are intimately familiar with Stockholm and Louisville, so more than likely, this won’t impress a wide audience of people who are not, well, me.


This first map is Stockholm overlaid with most of its light rail lines.

The colored lines are the primary Tunnelbana subway system that has 100 stations. The purple lines, while they don’t have their stations illustrated, include a number of other interconnected systems like the Pendeltåg (regional trains) and suburban commuter railways including Saltsjöbanan and Roslagsbanan. Those lines include more than 60 other stations not shown on this map.


This second map is Stockholm’s rail system laid on top of metro Louisville at the same scale.

My first impression upon seeing these maps is that a transit system like this in Louisville would be absurdly excessive. That’s really good news since the higher-ups in Louisville seem eternally obsessed with sports arenas and hellbent on pouring billions into automobile infrastructure, rather than rapid transit. Construction on Louisville’s 15-station light rail system was scrapped in 2004 because of a lack of funding, but there’s no shortage of construction projects for highways.

Coincidentally, one of the founders of the 8664 movement, Tyler Allen, recently announced that he is running for mayor in Louisville. Been there done that. I suspect he is better prepared and organized than I was 11 years ago.

The geographical layout and topography of the two cities is also a study in contrasts. I have always found it so odd that Louisville has its city center in a place that is not the geographic center of the city. Downtown is kind of in the north-west corner and most of the sprawl stretches south and east from there. This goes back to George Rogers Clark and the Falls of the Ohio being the impetus for the city being established.

In the map of Stockholm above, you can see why it is sometimes called the City on Water. Stockholm is laid across fifteen islands. That makes Louisville’s high water table and the Ohio River seem like paltry challenges to building underground. Louisville has enough surface area that tunneling beneath the ground would be largely unnecessary. Whereas Stockholm is more stacked upon islands, Louisville is largely flat with low hills.

Louisville wouldn’t need nearly the number of stations that Stockholm’s system services, but I’ve thought the same is true in here. Stockholm doesn’t need the number of stations it has. Much of the system is 50 or 60 years old and I imagine that if it were built today, the distance between some of the stations would be farther.

What I can’t imagine is how nice it would be to get around Louisville without sitting at traffic lights all day. There are dozens of scenarios in which hopping on a train would be so much more convenient than the hassle of a car – whether it’s going downtown for business or going out for drinks – but maybe Louisvillians will never know of them.

Most Louisvillians aren’t old enough to remember the Interurban Railway and streetcars that existed in the city until 1948. It seems that considering the move toward green technologies, collective transit may be taken more seriously in the future.

If I had a time machine, (which I don’t, just so you know) I would really enjoy riding a train through Louisville with a bunch of people wearing hats, seeing the city bustling, churning out smoke and being all old-timey and shit. Maybe I’m being too romantic by longing for these long-departed days of yore.

(Sources for the chart: Louisville population from US Census Bureau estimate, 2008. Stockholm population from Statistika Centralbyrån, 2009. Homicide numbers both from 2003, Louisville from FBI, Stockholm from Brottsförebyggande rådet.)

Rain

When I wake up and it’s raining, I feel how I imagine a dog must feel when you’re closing the door and leaving it in the house alone. The dog thinks you’re never coming back.

That’s how I feel when it rains, like the sun is never coming back.

Without knowing when it will come back, the rain might as well last forever. Only when there is a little bit of blue back in the sky do I feel like maybe it will be okay.

Swedes seem to share this feeling with me. When the weather is warm, the sun is out and it’s a beautiful day, Swedish people act as if they’ve never been outside before. After several months of cold darkness every year, I would probably be the same way.

There’s your poetry for the day.

Signs of tolerance


These damn Swedish liberals are sooo permissive.

Yes, you can park here and yes, it’s free, but we do have some rules: only in marked spaces and only for two days at a time.

Axelsberg Station


The Tunnelbana Station in the Stockholm neighborhood of Axelsberg has the name of the area spelled out in a giant glass, concrete, stone and iron sculpture that stretches the entire length of the platform. Each letter of the name “Axelsberg” is between 3 and 4 meters tall and built into a recessed embankment.

This art installation was put into the Axelsberg station in 1983 by artists Leif Bolter, Veine Johansson, Inga Modén and Gösta Wessel.

Because the platform is so long, it’s hard to really see the entire word at once. I tried to capture the entire thing by taking a photo of each letter and then stitching the pictures together. The result is what you see below. It didn’t turn out as seamlessly as I had hoped it would, but it was a fun thing to try. As a matter of fact, it’s pretty bad. So much for trying to capture “Shoulder Mountain.”


Click to view full size

Kristineberg

My new favorite part of Stockholm is a neighborhood known as Kristineberg.

Last week, I hung out in parks there a couple days in a row to enjoy the weather and scenery while buckling down for some studying of the Swedish language. During the summer break from school, I’ve decided to start back from the beginning of the book and go through as much of it as possible.


At one point while I was working there in the park, I glanced up and thought that my surroundings were too nice to be real. It almost looked like a painting. I would probably be there today if it wasn’t raining.


Here’s another spot where I spent some time studying.

Space Invaders at Thorildsplan

As we’ve learned in several previous stories, Stockholm’s Tunnelbana (subway) system is often called “the world’s longest art exhibition.” Each station has been decorated by a different artist or several artists, and some stations were even designed as walk-through art by architects. This underground art project began in the 1950’s and continues today.

The latest station to receive an artistic makeover is the Green Line platform at Thorildsplan. The station opened in 1952 and was previously decorated. However, in the fall of 2008, the existing art at the station sadly had to be removed because it had been so badly damaged by repeated vandalism.

To replace it and refresh the station, 43-year-old Swedish animator and painter Lars Arrhenius was selected.

Inspired by popular, vintage video games and computers, Arrhenius used the context of the easy-to-clean grid of tiles that traditionally blanket subway stations as an enlarged canvas of gigantic pixels.

I have a feeling that many of my friends who see this will go nuts for what he did with the station. I was certainly dazzled, tickled, amazed and blown away by it. It’s truly jaw-dropping and seemingly unimaginable by American standards of publicly-sanctioned art.

As always, you can click on any image to see it much larger.


A plaque at each station speaks of the art and artists. This one is near the entrance and greets you as you’re walking in from the street.

It says the artist wanted to make the station, like a large computer game, specifically the early arcade games of the 1970’s and 1980’s. Like in these old games, the moving trains are like traffic around the carousel and are constructed of different entrances and exits, bridges, tunnels and elevators.

He has been inspired by different kinds of pixels, symbols and data icons from these types of games. With all these symbols, he created his own game with the same objectives as the sources that inspired him: enjoy the journey and capture a ghost and UFO along the way.


If you’re arriving from another station and getting off the train at Thorildsplan, the wall surrounding the ramp and stairs that descends to street level is your introduction to the artwork. A long scene that wraps around this short wall is inspired by Space Invaders…


…and Pac Man wraps around the stairs.


As artist Lars Arrhenius said in his statement, just like a subway station, old video games are filled with elevators, ramps, stairs and moving vehicles. It’s quite exciting how he has brought the two together.

As you walk around the short wall to get approach the stairs, a bridge to the elevator is sandwiched with a ghost from Pac Man and a mushroom, which I’d like to think is from Centipede but is probably more of the Super Mario Bros. variety. Swedes know more about mushrooms than I do.


Pointing the way down the stairs is an early Microsoft Windows-style arrow.


On the wall opposite the Windows arrow is the bomb that would appear when your vintage Macintosh produced a system error. It’s true, kids, old Macs used to completely crash. However nostalgic I may be, I don’t miss seeing that old guy in the middle of my work, but it did get me in the habit of hitting Command-S to save all the time.


To the right of the Mac bomb are rain clouds and more mushrooms from Super Mario on Nintendo.


Clouds connect between the opposing walls, revealing a Super Mario smoke stack. A ladder next to them could be from any game, I’ll pick Donkey Kong.


More Space Invaders on the outside of the stairs.


Cherries from Pac Man


A long ramp cuts through the middle of the platform and this side is covered in tunnels reminiscent of Dig Dug.


Opposite from Dig Dug is an old Macintosh trash can, last seen in System 6, complete with Oscar the Grouch inside. I don’t know if it was an Easter egg put into the system by Apple programmers or if it was a thrid-party add-on, but I remember some very old Macs used to have Oscar in the trash can. He would sing a line of “I Love Trash” when you emptied it.


Here we see more Windows-inspired icons, the unforgettable hourglass and the magnifying glass.


E-mail? That seems kind of futuristic, but Blinky seems to love it. (FYI: I didn’t really know what the red ghost from Pac Man was called. I had to Google it.)


A bridge from underneath showing more of the marriage between video game aesthetics and subway architecture.


One interesting characteristic of the all-over art at this station is that it even wraps around the outside of the structure. This photo and the one below are parts of the station you would only see if you jumped onto the tracks or lived on an upper floor of the apartment house across the street. You can catch a glimpse of this for just a second if you’re inside the train when it is passing through. I wanted to see it, but I didn’t think it was worth an arm, so I waited until just after the train left to hold my camera out around a barricade to get these shots.

What I really love about the art at Thorildsplan is that we usually think of video games and computer systems as disposable. The iconography and graphics employed here have undoubtedly become a part of our everyday lives, but any game or operating system really only lasts a few years in general use.

Some of these classic icons from wildly popular video games bring back the same kinds of memories for us that songs and movies do, but only if you’re old enough to recognize them and young enough to remember how they affected you.

By embedding this imagery into a permanent structure, it becomes official. The bomb from the old Macintosh operating system or the ghost from Pac Man are not just memories or blips on screens anymore. They are a part of history.

The art at this station may be “cool” or “campy” right now, but when visitors pass through here in forty years, they will look at the displays in a much different way than we do. It may not tickle or thrill them the way it does for me. They may simply see it the way we see a tribute to old black and white movies. That’s just the way things were.

Note: Though it is too old to include the new art at Thorildsplan, there is a downloadable PDF booklet in English about art in the Tunnelbana system at this link on the Stockholms Lokaltrafik website.

My previous Tunnelbana station art visits are here: Solna Centrum, Bandhagen, Medborgarplatsen, Midsommarkransen, T-Centralen Blue Line, Bagarmossen and Transit Museum.

Bandhagen

Here are some scenes from the Tunnelbana station at Bandhagen.


The art installed at this location includes a gigantic measuring tape which bends through the entire station, from the outer sidewalk in front of the station all the way to the boarding platform.


The station was built on one of the green lines in 1952, between the central city and Hagsätra, where my first apartment with the crazy Dutchman was.


The ruler installation was designed by Fredy Fraek and added to the station in 1983.


The sculpture also includes a carved boulder of sandstone that weighs 19 tons and is wrapped by the ruler.


These photos were taken Saturday morning at about 5:00 am, while I was doing the “walk of shame” – that’s when you’re coming home from partying while people are going to work. This was the morning after the all-night Midsommar rager.


As you can see, it’s more of a ruler-style sculpture and not actually accurate for measuring anything. The numbers are not equidistant (yes, English also has some cool, efficient words).

Midsommarkransen

This weekend will bring the Midsommar Festival in Sweden, a tradition which goes back many centuries and marks the longest day of the year. As you might have guessed, midsommar means “mid-summer.” Swedish ain’t so tough, see?


This time lapse image from the Slussen webcam shows one photo from every hour yesterday. As you can see, there’s really nothing left of our old friend, the nighttime. Don’t worry, though, like an unwelcome guest he’ll be back in the winter. It’ll seem like he’ll never leave.

Although the past couple days have been sunny and breezy, it’s unfortunately looking like rain will fall all over these festivities. But weather permitting, there will be lots of singing of traditional Swedish songs, eating tiny fresh potatoes, drinking schnapps (“snaps“) people dancing in circles around a flowery May-pole-style post (“midsommarstäng“), acting like frogs and wearing wreaths of flowers in their hair.


The Swedish word for “the wreath” is kransen, so the midsummer wreath is midsommarkransen. In honor of the significance of this holiday in Swedish culture, there is a nice neighborhood in Stockholm called Midsommarkransen. Part of the art in the Tunnelbana station there includes a giant midsommarkrans hanging from the ceiling.

If you ever had a book about different cultures of the world when you were a kid, the Sweden page probably had a picture of the Midsommar celebration.

(I think the Germany page probably had a picture of Oktoberfest, the England page had a dainty gentleman fancying a biscuit with an umbrella and a cup o’ tea with Big Ben in the background, the China page had one of the imperial temples, and the American page had a picture of a cowboy. The new version that kids have now probably has a picture of a blingy gangster rapper counting Benjamins and cappin’ a ho in the face. Click-clack!)

Swedes love to celebrate and will use just about any excuse to do so. It seems there has been a big holiday just about every month since I’ve been here. Midsommar and the recent National Day are non-religious holidays, but I couldn’t believe what a big deal Easter was, especially since such a small percentage of the Swedish population – only about 20% – considers themselves religious.

Currently, there are advertisements all around the city encouraging debate about the large role religion plays in society – even here.

The signs, sponsored by the Humanist Society, have the slogan Gud Finns Nog Inte. When I first saw them in the Tunnelbana stations, I thought that meant “God is not enough” and my first reaction was that this type of advertisement would never be allowed in America. Religious people (that’s code for “Christians”) would shit their pants and cry about it until every last sign was taken down and the people responsible were boycotted out of existence.

In reality, Gud finns nog inte actually means something more along the lines of “God is not probable” – which makes my original translation seem downright tame and my first reaction absolutely right. I don’t think such a campaign would even be attempted in America, namely because none of the companies who sell advertising space would risk the backlash from accepting the ads.

I should make it clear that I’m not trying to disparage anyone’s beliefs and I’m only bringing this up to compare the differences in cultures and perceptions. I certainly believe everyone is entitled to their own as long as they don’t infringe on anyone else’s ability to believe. That’s common sense.

Of course, if you’re interested, there’s plenty more of my opinions and those of people who disagree (and many who generally miss the whole point) in my fantastic, amazing, critically-acclaimed, hilarious, wonderful, insightful, captivating, page-turning book Letters to Saint Clinton, available now from fine online retailers like Amazon.com and K Composite.

As a graphic designer – and one who is not particularly religious but nonetheless peripherally interested in religious stuff – I have found it ironic that the Swedish flag appears to have a crucifix-style cross on it when hung vertically. The flags of all the Scandinavian countries are in this same style. The designers of this campaign have taken advantage of this characteristic in the ads by using it in a series of religious symbols. A nice touch.

Okay, enough already. Bring on the snaps and frog dances! Click-clack!

Blue Line through T-Centralen

The Blue Line Tunnelbana station deep beneath T-Centralen hub was designed in 1975 by Per Olof Ultvedt. It’s a multi-level station with monstrous caverns of exposed rock, gigantic escalators and moving sidewalks.

My snapshots really don’t do it justice. Some professional images of the same sites can be seen at ArchiBase, an architecture site.

Transit Museum, museums in transit, Nationaldagen, and the studentflak

In keeping with the theme of public transit, on a recent Saturday, Erik and I paid a visit to the Stockholm Spårvägsmuseet. The name literally means track-way-museum, but you can call it the Transit Museum.

Anyone who knows me also knows that one of my general interests is old timey shit. Boy oh boy did they have some reeeeaaallly old timey shit at this place.

Spårvägsmuseet

Naturally, they have all kinds of super cool old trains, buses, uniforms, maps, clippings, and pictures, but they also have old ticket booths, turnstiles, snack kiosks, and totally reconstructed historic bus shelters and Tunnelbana environments. Museums are always advertising “you can walk back in time” and it was kind of like that. The whole experience was a sweet deal for only 30 kronors (less than $4) and a great way to kill several hours on a Saturday afternoon.

Oddly enough, the transit museum is not located near any of the subway stations. I was as amazed by that as some of the actual exhibits because I kept wondering how they got all those trains to the building and put them inside. Trains are kind of big and heavy, you know?

Underground Art

Since you have read every single story on this website, you know that one of my favorite things about the Stockholm transit system – other than the fact that it eliminates the need to own a car – is that all of the Tunnelbana stations have been designed by different artists.

Several stations have features that aren’t really art but are nonetheless creative, for example directional compasses carved or embedded into the platforms. This photo shows one of those as well as part of an extensive prism of illuminated walls in the station at Bagarmossen.

“The world’s longest art exhibition” is what Stockholm’s subway system is sometimes called. Because of this, one entire section of the transit museum is dedicated to art in the underground and surface stations. There is so much art and information crammed into this single room that I could have spent a couple hours there and still not have seen it all. I think the art area could be expanded into an entirely separate museum and it would still be worth the price of admission. I suppose this isn’t necessary since “the world’s longest art exhibition” is just outside.

I took advantage of the opportunity to make a 360° view of the art room in the Stockholm Transit Museum.


Click to view full size

Some of the highlights you’ll see in the panorama are: actual ticket booths and electronic entry points, a bench shaped and painted to look like trees, some old street cars, Erik enjoying the exhibits, a station-by-station guide to every installation, a re-creation of one of the arched tunnels from the Kungsträdgården station, a section of the gigantic tape measure that snakes all the way through the Bandhagen station, a bus from the 1970’s, and some little kids riding in a miniature train that winds through the museum.

This miniature train is presumably safer than the one at the Louisville Zoo which crashed this week, sending 20 people to the hospital. One of the reader comments on The Courier-Journal newspaper’s website said, “more proof that light rail won’t work in Louisville.” Brilliant!

Radio Documentary Train

Not to be outdone by all the visual art in Stockholm’s subways, the national broadcasting company has commandeered some of the trains in the system and outfitted them as rolling museums.

When you take a Tunnelbana train anywhere in Stockholm, you may randomly happen upon a Sveriges Radio train, like the one pictured here. It will take you where you want to go just like a regular train, but it is packed with a variety of audio documentary stations.

The outside of the SR train has been colorfully decorated with graphics which are a distinct difference from the typical solid blue and silver color scheme. The doors are emblazoned with Sveriges Radio logos and the greeting “Welcome inside Stockholm’s fastest subway wagon” (…presumably because your trip will seem faster if you’re hearing something interesting. I’m sure if the train actually was traveling faster than other trains that could turn out to be a problem.)

When you step inside the train, all the usual advertisements have been replaced with red information panels and, upon sitting down, attached to the handle below each window, you’ll find a small red box with audio jacks. Just unhook your headphones from your iPod and plug into a documentary.

Each set of seats has a different story so if the train is not too crowded you can pick a seat that has a story you’ll find interesting. The day I was lucky enough to have a chance meeting with the documentary train, I was unlucky enough that it was packed with commuters coming home from work. Suckers!

One of the few open seats was next to a box with a documentary about kidnappings in Kashmir. The little bit of Swedish I am able to understand is easiest when it’s on the radio and people are speaking slowly and clearly, but you don’t have to understand much to grasp how depressing this story was.

Another box in the train had a story about Raoul Wallenberg, a famous Swede from the World War II era. Wallenberg worked as a diplomat in Hungary and saved thousands of people from the Nazis by issuing them fake Swedish passports.

Renting dozens of buildings in Budapest, he helped house more than 35,000 people in an impromptu compound of buildings disguised with fake signs of offices and research institutes.

What an awesome dude. I mean, he saved tens of thousands of lives and here I am just typing on the internet about other people’s art. Oh well, maybe I’ll do something cool tomorrow.

Three cheers for Raoul Wallenberg on Sweden’s National Day! … oh, right, I forgot. June 6th is not only my parents’ anniversary (45 years!) it is also Nationaldagen in Sweden.

The Sixth of June in Sweden

Nearly half a dozen significant events in Swedish history have transpired on the sixth of June, including Swedish independence from the Kalmar Union, various transfers of power, and some royal weddings (though the one next year of Princess Victoria and Daniel Westling is oddly scheduled for June 10th).

Although the importance of June 6th in Sweden goes back nearly 500 years, it was not declared an official national holiday until 2005. It’s like the Swedish 4th of July and it’s practically brand new! The date was traditionally celebrated as Flag Day but recently the Swedes finally decided it’s not too nationalistic to celebrate your country. I celebrate their country every day, so I’m glad this weekend everyone else is joining me. There are outdoor festivities and music going on everywhere.

These National Day celebrations are being augmented with the endless racket of thousands of high school graduates in their traditional, white, sailor-style graduation hats, riding around on the backs of giant trucks, pumping loud music, screaming, drinking beer, and otherwise generally shattering everything I’ve said about Sweden being a reasonable, quiet place.

Such a truck is called a studentflak (student flatbed truck). They have huge sound systems and are covered in homemade banners, flowers, and sometimes trees. Yes, there are trees on the trucks with the kids who are partying. Maybe you should just see for yourself.

I didn’t take that picture and I didn’t make this video of trucks riding through Stureplan, I found them on the website of a company that rents the vehicles, but I think they capture the idea. (Click the HQ button to see it in higher quality) There are companies who specialize in renting out these trucks, just as they would any other party supplies.

Here is a link to a television commercial for a studentflak rental service, and here is a flak with trees on it leaving a school with the parents proudly watching.

It’s a big deal. A big loud, annoying, whooohooo-hip-hop-party deal. I mean, it would probably be fun if I was 18, but I ain’t, buddy. I was once, but that was a loooonnnngg time ago.

Slussen and 8664 revisited

Last Thursday, I posted a story about the upcoming reconstruction of Stockholm’s central Slussen interchange. In detailing the project, I discussed how it reminded me of a gargantuan project in Louisville. I took the opportunity to compare the different approaches the two cities are following.

Louisville’s undertaking involves the expansion of Kennedy Interchange, including Interstates 64 and 65, and the construction of two new spans across the mighty Ohio River. This project, which includes placing 23 lanes of traffic between the city and its waterfront, is absurd in scale and cost. That has not gone unnoticed.

In March, the American transportation site The Infrastructurist proclaimed it Number One in their ranking of the “Most Ridiculous New Roads Being Built In America.”

All this came up in my discussion of life in Sweden because Stockholm is faced with a similar situation at Slussen. The difference is, in my humble opinion, that Stockholm is continuing to do everything right and Louisville is digging itself deeper into obsolescence. These divergent paths go all the way back to the 1940’s – public transit, airport expansion, streetscapes, you name it.

As I said last week, when you think about what has happened to oil prices, driving trends, and auto manufacturing, just in the past couple years (Louisville’s traffic congestion declined by 39% in 2008 alone), a fifteen-year project like this truly deserves to be Number One on that list.

It brings me a lot of pain to say things like this, but I think the people in charge in Louisville simply aren’t seeing the big picture. (Really, Scott? Why don’t you do something about it like run for office?) What’s more, they’re not listening to what the informed public wants.

Today, more than 11,000 Louisvillians are registered members of 8664, an organization that has proposed an alternative plan to send thru-traffic around the city, restore a sense of reason to the project, and reconnect the city with its riverfront. And a recent poll showed Louisvillians favored routing traffic around the city by a margin of 2 to 1.

Last week I tried to sell the case that making tough choices and doing the right thing is sometimes not popular. The more I think about it, though, making the tough choice in this case would be popular!

With the governments of Kentucky, Indiana, Louisville, and the United States facing such revenue issues, it seems to me like giving the public what they want and stopping an obscene, multi-billion-dollar construction project is a no-brainer.

Louisville’s light rail project that was shelved in May 2004 had a pricetag of $1 billion, if I recall correctly. 8664 and light rail could both be built for the cost of the currently planned monstrosity, and at a savings of nearly a billion dollars.

For readers in Sweden: Yes, it’s true, Louisville is a metropolitan area of over a million people and has no rapid transit system. Further, despite its central US location, within several hours from a dozen major cities, Louisville is not even served by any passenger trains to other cities.

The reason I’m bringing all this up again so soon is because I wanted to mention that my comparison of the Ohio River and Slussen projects was cited Saturday on The Urbanophile, a Chicago-based site that deals with Midwestern urban and transportation issues.

Then on Monday, to my surprise, the 8664 website itself referenced both my discourse and The Urbanophile’s analysis. Fantastic! When I received the 8664 update newsletter in my email today, it also included a mention of the two.

I started this blog (shudder) as a way to provide updates and my thoughts to friends and family about my adventures in Sweden. I’m pleased and surprised that it is serving a purpose for people who may not know me. Kanske ska jag glöm inte att det är på Internet och alla kan läsa det. Kanske också att jag kan inte ännu pratar svenska. Eller…

360° view from Slussen

Here is another 360-degree image I made recently in Stockholm. In this view from Slussen, you can see Gamla Stan (the old town) across the water, the circular Berg Arkitektkontor (Berg Architecture office) building, and Gondolen, a tall elevator-and-bridge observation structure.


Click images to view full size

Slussen is a central point in the city. It is the location of one of the live webcams in the left-hand column on this site. From that camera’s position on the Gondolen, you can look down on the position where this 360° view was made. The yellow Hilton Hotel is in the left side of both views, and the satellite view below shows these landmarks specifically.

The greater Slussen site is a major junction that has been built upon for decades to accommodate the growing traffic demands of all the cars, trains, boats, bicycles, buses, and pedestrians who use it daily.

It’s one of those types of places where you can feel that there was never a master plan. Things are randomly arranged in a confusing fashion. Some areas seem closed until a car comes through and surprises you. When you’re crossing one of the streets there, it’s sometimes not clear which direction you should look to watch for traffic. The current version of the site is nearly 100 years old and is in dire need of repair. This black and white image is how it looked in 1935 and at first glance it seems not much has changed since then. Today, the complex includes twenty-four bridges.

Its central location makes it a popular meet-up spot, not least because five of the seven subway lines pass through every few minutes. Underneath the streets, where you can walk to the Tunnelbana station or visit some underground shops, much of the concrete is old and crumbling. While it probably seemed like a futuristic nexus in the 1930’s, it’s quite primitive by today’s standards.

The whole scene down there is oddly out of place in this otherwise clean and organized city. You can see some of its deterioration if you look at the handrails and concrete infrastructure in the detailed 360° image.

In the next few years, Slussen will be completely rebuilt and modernized. Through a massive reconstruction project, the new plan will open up much more public space and access to the water. A victim of this renovation will be the Debaser Slussen nightclub which sits under all of it adjacent to the boat locks. The area where Debaser sits seems like it will completely disappear in order to accomplish the new vision. The circular Berg building in the center, truly a landmark, will also vanish.

This picture from the Dagens Nyheter (“Daily News”) newspaper website shows a rendering of the new Slussen. It’s much more sleek and open.

I know many Stockholmers have a lot of sentimental attachment to the Berg building, Debaser, and the general familiarity of Slussen. Understandably, some people are freaking out about the changes, but it seems that the area is falling apart so something must be done. It’s nice that the opportunity is being taken to do something truly forward-looking that embraces the water and enhances the public space.

Here is an overview on the Stockholm City website of the challenges involved the project, which includes several pictures truly worth a thousand words.

The Slussen controversy reminds me a bit of the 8664 debate that has been going on for a few years in Louisville. Some businessmen and activists (supported by more than 10,000 members of the public) are pushing to stop the expansion of downtown highways to an absurd 23 lanes.

The alternative plan they are advocating would route thru-traffic around the city and replace the giant, elevated highway with a ground-level, tree-lined waterfront parkway. Aside from reconnecting the city to its riverfront, it would also save billions of taxpayer dollars. Naturally, the higher-ups aren’t listening.

With driving rates continuing to decline, it only seems comical to continue building monstrous automobile infrastructure. I’m continually returning to the idea what kind of public transit a couple billion dollars could buy for Louisville, instead of the proposed 23-lane monument to yesterday’s sad love affair with the internal combustion engine.

The image you see here is not an exaggeration by the opposition, it is from the actual Ohio River Bridges Project website. It’s really quite shocking how the project absolutely dwarfs entire city blocks of houses and businesses, and is placed directly between the city and its waterfront. If you’re having any trouble imagining the size of this monster, compare it to the baseball stadium in the bottom left of the picture.

If everything goes according to plan – which construction ventures never do – the project will be finished in fifteen years. When you think about what has happened to oil prices, driving trends, and auto manufacturing, just in the last two or three years, a fifteen-year project like this is nothing short of senseless, foolish, and wasteful. It is a prefect example of doing more of the same thing and expecting different results.

Stockholm, a city roughly the same size as Louisville, is literally blanketed in a web of public transit. This access grew out of investment and planning dating back to the 1940’s, when Louisville was foolishly dismantling its electric street cars. The result today in Stockholm is a beautiful city that is drastically quieter, cleaner, and more accessible to everyone than Louisville is. In my several months here I have been inside a car only a handful of times. Buses, bicycles, pedestrians – they all coexist in the same space and breathe the same air.

Just like Louisville, Stockholm was originally founded because it was a natural stopping point for shipping. The boats had to stop here and therefore a community grew around that pause in the transport of goods. Sure, Stockholm is more than half a millennium older than Louisville, but that should make its lessons of modern growth more of an example than not. Despite the age difference, the two cities share a lot of parallels and similar challenges when it comes to transit – namely, a similar population, surface area, high water table, commuter culture.

The difference is that in Stockholm they made tough choices for the greater good. They moved their air traffic away from the city instead of continuing to expand an old airport in the middle of where everyone lives. They built an extensive underground rail system which meant carving deep into the bedrock below lakes and rivers.

Both of these things happened more than sixty years ago and neither was cheap, but in the long run, they were ultimately worth it. They required sacrifices but they became gifts to future generations that people today are enjoying.

With all the investment UPS has put into the Louisville airport and the city’s cost of buying out homeowners to expand it, they really should have built an entirely new airport somewhere else. Jumbo jets regularly flying a few hundred feet over houses and schools is insane, not just because of the noise, but because of the danger. It only takes one accident to ruin a neighborhood and scar a generation of life in the city. In the same respect, individuals driving alone in their cars from the east end of the city to their jobs downtown is doing nothing but slowly burning up the planet and filling the local air with noise and toxins. There is plenty of land in surrounding counties for a truly international airport and plenty of daily mass commuting in and out of the city to support collective transit.

If you build it, they will come, you just have to make the tough choices and understand that you can’t please everybody. Lincoln wasn’t popular and the Kennedys certainly weren’t overwhelmed with love, but we don’t remember the popular guys as being anything but popular. We remember the guys who had a vision, the ability to get us to see it, and help them remake things for the better. In a 200-year old city, it may be difficult to see 100 years into the future, but you must do that.

I miss a lot of things about Louisville, but I certainly don’t miss the noise level, the exhaust, the need to drive or the cost of driving. Louisvillians think of the city as clean, quiet, and easy to get around. By American standards, that’s pretty true, but you really haven’t seen anything like Stockholm.

In Louisville, you always hear a motorcycle, an airplane, a siren. When I hear one of those things in Stockolm, I notice it as unusual. I feel like even if I live another fifty years, it may not be long enough to enjoy this in my own hometown.