Wednesday, September 02, 2009

RTL-Day Minus 5: Dagen H

Håll dig till höger, Svensson An astute reader (yes, all KPC readers are astute, but this person is astute even by those elevated standards) notes that one should compare the impending Samoan disaster to the analogous disaster in Sweden.

Well, at KPC we live to serve. Well, and to complain. To serve and to complain, that's what we live for. Anyway, some background on Dagen H. Start with the WikiP entry, which is quite good. Excerpt:

Dagen H (H day), today mostly referred to as Högertrafikomläggningen ("The right-hand traffic diversion"), was the day, 3 September 1967, on which traffic in Sweden switched from driving on the left-hand side of the road to the right. The H stands for Högertrafik, the Swedish word for "right-hand traffic".

There were two major arguments for the change: (1) All Sweden's immediate neighbours drove on the right (including Norway, with which Sweden has a long land border). (2)
Most Swedes drove left-hand drive (LHD) vehicles. This led to many head-on collisions when passing on two-lane highways, which are common in Sweden because of its low population density and traffic levels.
Nonetheless, the change was widely unpopular, and had repeatedly been voted down over the previous forty years. In a 1955 referendum, 83 percent voted to keep driving on the left. In 1963, the Riksdag (the Swedish parliament) approved the change and established the Statens Högertrafikkommission (HTK) ("state right-hand traffic commission") to oversee it. It also began implementing a four-year education program, with the advice of psychologists.[1]

The campaign included displaying the Dagen H logo on various commemorative items, including milk cartons, men's shorts and women's underwear. Swedish television held a contest for songs about the change; the winning entry was Håll dig till höger, Svensson ('Keep to the right, Svensson') by the Telstars. As Dagen H neared, every intersection was equipped with an extra set of poles and traffic signals wrapped in black plastic. Workers roamed the streets early in the morning on Dagen H to remove the plastic. Similarly, a parallel set of lines were painted onto the roads with white paint, then covered with black tape. Before Dagen H, Swedish roads had used yellow lines.

On Dagen H, Sunday, 3 September, all non-essential traffic was banned from the roads from 01:00 to 06:00. Any vehicles on the roads during that time had to follow special rules. All vehicles had to come to a complete stop at 04:50, then carefully change to the right-hand side of the road and stop again before being allowed to proceed at 05:00. In Stockholm and Malmö, however, the ban was longer—from 10:00 on Saturday until 15:00 on Sunday—to allow work crews to reconfigure intersections. Certain other towns also saw an extended ban, from 15:00 on Saturday until 15:00 on Sunday.

One-way streets presented unique problems. Bus stops had to be constructed on the other side of the street. Intersections had to be reshaped to allow traffic to merge.

Why put a reminder to "switch sides" on women's underwear? Why did one-way streets present unique problems? Why does Samoa want traffic to look like this? UPDATE: This Salon piece makes the comparison with Sweden quite nicely, and (importantly) mentions the timeless musical classic "Keep to the Right, Svensson." Ya gotta recognize....

1 comment:

aub said...

Mike, why do you have to be a hater??
A friend of mine commented the other day that "Positive cultural change comes with discomfort; THAT discomfort is WELL worth enduring."

I suspect he was thinking about healthcare reform, but he could have been talking about this positive cultural change in Samoa, too.

Just think how great it will be. All the shiny new buses, all the new drive-up windows. Now, that'll drive prosperity, my friend!