Motorways across much of Switzerland are clogged at peak times. Recently, the federal government agreed to expand key trunk routes to six lanes. In response, members of the Green Party (and others) started organising a vote against spending CHF 5.3 billion on wider roads. This week, they reached the required number of signatures to call a popular vote, reported SRF.
According to vote organisers, more roads will mean more cars. The CHF 5.3 billion would be better invested in sustainable forms of transport, for example a shift from road to rail, they say.
Not everyone agrees. Certain members of the Swiss People’s Party (UDC/SVP) in particular argue that wider motorways are needed because of a rising population. The first Swiss motorway was opened in 1955 and much of the planning was done in the 1950s – see planning map from 1958. Switzerland’s population is roughly 60% larger now than it was in 1950.
In addition, provided the European electricity grid can ween itself off fossil fuels, the rise of electric cars has the potential to make road transport sustainable. Those more likely to own and use cars are also more likely to live in areas with lower density housing with roofs for solar panels to power electric vehicles.
In many ways, the political friction around transport reflects differences in where people live. For city dwellers close to a major train station, trains provide good mobility. For others who are far from these train hubs train travel can be highly inconvenient and unworkable. In addition, the rail network is built in favour of city hubs leaving some regions with surprisingly slow indirect train journeys. For example, most living beyond Lausanne along the lake towards Montreux and beyond might need to spend roughly twice as long on a train to get to the city of Fribourg to the northeast. From the town of Blonay, this journey would take more than 1.5 hours by train but less than 40 minutes by car. A round train trip could take an avoidable bite of close to 2 hours out of your day. This rail route inefficiency affects all journeys to German-speaking Switzerland from this region.
City dwellers without cars would also prefer fewer noisy polluting cars on local streets. Those living in less dense environments barely consider this aspect.
In addition to investing in rail over roads, vote organisers would also like to see more working from home and more car sharing, options that may have more universal appeal. However, realities related to where different people live and the propensity to view the world from a personal perspective is likely to sustain the political friction around mobility well beyond any vote on the subject.
SRF article (in German)
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