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Urban Transportation: Stockholm's Marvelous Mix of Transit Modes

Stockholm, the capital and largest city of Sweden, is a beautiful and well planned city and known for its setting among island waterways.  It has a vibrant café and nightlife scene and is full of parks as well as cycling and walking tracks.  It is an easy city to get around, possessing a 100-station metro system and complimentary network of trams, buses, light rail, and commuter trains.  What makes Stockholm's transit system so good is its intermodal functionality, that is, the ease with which its riders can switch from a subway to a tram or commuter train, using the same fare card and with little walking or waiting.

Comprehensive Metro

Opened in 1950, Stockholm's metro, or subway, has expanded to a 100-station network with three lines emanating out from its Centralen Station.  The first line opened using the infrastructure of the national railroad, and some of the subsequently added lines were conversions from tram routes.  One of the most interesting features of this subway network is its assortment of cave stations.  Much of Stockholm's substrata is solid granite and when transit users walk the platforms of such stations, they are reminded of how challenging the work was to build the system. 

Stylish, Old and New Train Fleet

Yet another aspect of the subway system the author found particularly elegant were the substantial minority of mid-century trains, a delightful change-of-pace from the modern and sleek, next-generation trains in the majority. Painted the same, bright, Swedish Blue as the 'next generation' trains, the older trains are somehow brighter with their wide, white striping and smaller windows. The older trains, as visually appealing inside as out, are designed with a warmer feel than the newer train interiors, and feature soft, ochre-yellow walls and cozy, brown velour seats.

Reliability, Frequency, and Other Modes

The most important accomplishment of the public transportation system in Stockholm has been its high degree of reliability, frequency, and intermodal connectivity.  The commuter and city rail lines coalesce with the trams and buses in nearly seamless transfer points, making for short walks between modes.  Waiting is minimized by the high frequency and reliability of the rail and bus modes, and stations and bus shelters each contain standard, localized schedules and maps.  Bus lines are either one of four trunk routes (blue), which operate long,  circuit routes perpendicular to subway lines, or one of the shorter, feeder routes (red).  The city also operates trams and light-rail over routes with a higher passenger capacity than what buses can accommodate, and these are an integral element of newly built communities around the city.

Bicycles as a Transit Mode

Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of Stockholm's total transportation system is the interconnected nature of the city by way of its well-placed bike and walking paths.  When the city classified the bicycle as a mode of transportation, rather than just a form of recreation, it demonstrated its commitment to clean air and integrated planning.  Bike lanes here are grade-separated and/or built between sidewalks and parked cars, with safety margins for opening passenger side doors.  By making bike riding very safe, rather than requiring riders to wear helmets and "share the road", as in the USA, the city now has 25% more bikes owned than ten years ago.

Planning and Upgrading Routes

Hands-down, the biggest construction project in Stockholm today is the 4-mile rail tunnel being built under the city-center.  When complete in 2017, regional, commuter, and freight rail traffic will be free of congestion and the constraints to reliability and future expansion.  The project includes the expansion of the city's crowded Centralen and Odenplan stations.  When walking around the city's urban core, it is impossible to miss the components of this enormous project in progress that will greatly streamline Stockholm's public transportation matrix.

Stockholm's Innovative Urban Planning

What makes Stockholm such a special place today and what brings visitors here during all seasons is the city's commitment to high standards of urban planning.  Since its beginnings in Gamla Stan in the 1200's, the city has grown almost without interruption.  The continuous demands of population pressure, limited buildable land due to the aquatic geography and granite geology, and short winter days have all encouraged innovative and effective planning.  The monocultural Swedish society, with many families today having roots in the country going back hundreds of years, translates to a higher level of responsibility in the public realm.  This is in contrast to the multicultural and sometimes fragmented nature of American society, where planning is subject to divergent and competing interests.