My war on regional digitized road and transport data in Stockholm

During the years 2006 – 2009 when working in the regional public transport I found an lucky opportunity to fill one of my companies most frustrating data black holes with ones and zeros. But you can’t win them all! Listen to my story. You are one year old when you learn to walk, you are five or six when you learn to ride a bike and at least 16 when learning to drive. All of us have as a primary means of traveling - walking (and here I include all in wheelchairs) and even motorists are occasionally forced to leave their car - at least to be able to refuel the car.

Although, since the modern era began, cities has focused on the car's traction, and to be frank , we have built cities such as displacing pedestrians as second-class citizens. When Sweden a few years ago legislated that motorists have an obligation to give way to pedestrians intending to cross the street - then motorists raged and state that this is a traffic hazard!

In wintertime all municipalities in Sweden are carefully plowing the roads. Although, in many of these municipalities leaders has decided that the property owners shall be responsible for clearing snow from sidewalks. How many property owners do you think it is along a normal Swedish roadside - and how likely do you make it a pedestrian is offered a safe and pleasant journey? And bike lanes often proves to be a perfect place for the snow brigade to put aside the snow.

In Sweden, the public exercise of power is highly decentralized and we have a very comprehensive municipal planning monopoly. But there is also very important to have a coherent national road infrastructure. Sweden therefore decided very early that it was important to establish a national database of road network. Yes, that is, the motorist road network, administrated by the National Swedish Road Administration. First on the runway by filling it with content was in fact the forest industry. They used this excellent almost free of charge resource to post their temporary forest roads so that their forest machines and trucks could find their way to all the remote and well hidden places where harvesting is currently underway. See there - an excellent commercial application of one of the society offered national data infrastructures!

In this decentralized Sweden, the municipalities are also responsible for the local road network. Therefore, also the digitization of the local road network has been a local affair and the Swedish Road Administration has therefore never been able to force any municipality neither to gather the data, nor to deliver it anywhere. Of course, the local politicians has limited budgets and if he / she has to choose among local public opinions, the one that demands for digitized road networks has never been particularly vociferous. In fact, even after 14 years of operation, this database NVDB has not yet signed contracts with all Swedish municipalities.

In fact, when NVDB established in 1996, bike lanes were not even on the horizon. Today as the National Traffic Administration offers the possibility after many years of nagging (not the least from me) quite many municipalities have supplied data, but there is still no one offering municipalities an opportunity to store a digitized pedestrian lane database.

I used to work in SL, the Stockholm County Public Transportation Authority, and there I was responsible for the development of Internet and mobile services. Such a core service is the travel planner. SL's network is an integrated intermodal network that spans 26 municipalities and, yes, you already understand the problem. All the county has actually delivered the digitized road network and that means that all players, especially yellow pages business and Garmin and TomTom etc have been able to develop great services. But in public transport you are totally dependent on that the footpaths are digitized - for all public transport passengers must get to and from stations and bus stops. For SL, the lack of an across municipal boundaries associated digitized pedestrian network the travel planner becoming increasingly a problem as customers always expect better and more advanced services.


A few years ago when Stockholm won the opportunity to host the ITS World Congress, I saw an opportunity to change this. I put on the top of my (read SL) wish list a coherent and digitized route network for walking and biking. I quite easily in these collaborative surrounding of the National Swedish Road Administration, the National Swedish Rail Administration, The National Swedish Transport Administration, the City of Stockholm, the National Swedish Railway Company and many, many other stakeholders found friends of the mission, realizing the importance of this. Mobility services for people with impairments, police and rescue services must be found to the door even on local private pedestrian areas in closed yards, the postal service must even find doors in the z-axis, so this should be a easy piece, I thought. I built relations with ALL, and all agreed on the importance of access to such data - but no one was willing to either take responsibility or to share responsibility, this includes my former employer.

In despair I went to one of the largest commercial global players in GIS. They had a great interest - to map the inner city of Stockholm on the basis of the business traveler's perspective ... but could not see any profit to make in the mapping of walking paths in the Stockholm archipelago. No luck again.

Finally I found one guy with the same burning fire inside for the same thing as me, he ran the exact same question from one of the largest and leading infrastructure consultancy firms, actually he was the CEO of a large subsidiary specializing in GIS.

Today he is no longer there and still today you cannot find a coherent pedestrian and bicycle road network in this county.

This, ladies and gentlemen, this is my biggest carrier failure. And I indeed take it very personal.

- Åke Lindström, Market Director Kista Science City