Walk Metro Vancouver knows that change is hard. But if you are an entire country and you can educate, plan, and change roads to get folks to drive on the other side, can we not make the same case for a great education, speed, and road design model to make walking safer and more convenient?
On September 3, 1967, a nation-wide change occurred in Sweden that you may not have heard about, one that informs how road congestion charges and the Vision Zero philosophy were developed in that country.
On that day fifty years ago, every Swedish driver and cyclist changed from driving on the left side of the road to the right side. As the BBC reports, “the day was officially known as Högertrafikomläggningen (right-hand traffic diversion) or simply Dagen H (H-Day). Its mission was to put Sweden on the same path as the rest of its continental European neighbours, most of which had long followed the global trend to drive cars on the right.”
Using planned logistics and an education campaign, every city and town had to repaint road markings, replan the locations of bus stops and lights, and reconfigure intersections, bikeways and one direction streets. Cities such as Stockholm, Malmö and Helsingborg used the “right side drive” campaign to increase buses by retiring tram lines, and started the conversation about traffic safety.
Signage had to be changed across Sweden, with the military assisting with that task. To facilitate the signage switch, all traffic except for emergency and essential services was banned. (From 1950 to 1966, fatal road crashes had increased over 100 per cent, to 1,313 in 1966.)
Remarkably, the change to driving on the right side of the road went pretty smoothly.
While “H-Day” was on a Sunday, only minor accidents occurred on the first Monday going back to work, and there were no fatalities.
As the changes caused Swedes to drive a bit more cautiously, traffic deaths decreased by nearly 18 per cent, and injuries were reduced by 11 per cent. “Investment in the planning and logistics” was credited for making the difference, as well as communication initiatives designed to educate the public and get them to comprehend the change.
Billboards, and even milk cartons, carried information on the change. “There was even a theme tune to accompany the switch, reaching number five on the Swedish hit parade.”
Thirty years later, in 1997, Sweden commenced an international project to work towards Vision Zero, accepting no fatalities on their public roads. The statistics are fascinating — Sweden has one of the lowest road death statistics, with “270 people dying in 2016, compared to 1,313 in 1966, the year before Dagen H.”
By prioritizing walking, cycling and transit, Sweden is already operating self-driving transit buses in Stockholm and planning for the impact of autonomous vehicles. They are also forecasting a future where few people in Sweden will need to drive at all, with an abundance of active transportation and transit alternatives.
An intensive public process and the exchange of ideas and information is seen as key to this transition to driverless options, increased use of transit, and technological change.
YouTube provides this Universal Newsreel coverage of the 1967 switch to the right side of the road.