Why Sweden Clears Snow-Covered Walkways Before Roads

Photo:  Stockholm Transport Museum
Photo: Stockholm Transport Museum

In Swedish cities, the approach to snow removal used to be pretty similar to the way it is in the United States.

First cities would plow major highways. Then they would plow big surface streets, especially near large employers. Last, they would clear walkways and bike paths.

But after analyzing government services through a process known as “gender-balanced budgeting,” many Swedish cities, including Stockholm, prioritize snow clearance very differently. They now clear walkways and bike paths first, especially those near bus stops and primary schools. Next, they clear local roads, and then, finally, highways.

The Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions explains it all in this English-language video:

An analysis of Sweden’s snow clearance practices showed that it disadvantaged women, who were more likely to walk, while employment districts where men predominantly worked were more likely to have streets plowed first.

Not only was the impact of snow clearance priorities discriminatory, there were negative consequences for society as a whole. Three times as many people are injured while walking in icy conditions in Sweden than while driving. And the cost of those injuries far exceeds the cost of snow clearance.

So the order was reversed. Municipalities faced no additional cost for clearing pedestrian paths first. And it reduced injuries, in addition to being objectively fairer.

Now Canadian officials are interested in importing the idea of gender-balanced budgeting, the CBC reports, which is expected to be a hot topic when world leaders gather in Davos this week.

  • TourDeBoulder

    The City of Boulder Colorado should consider doing this. Currently they don’t clear crosswalks unless citizens file many complaints. Cars are the main priority.

  • JZ71

    Since taxes in Sweden are twice what we pay here, in the USA, this makes perfect sense.

  • thielges

    I think ypu missed the part of the article explaining that the reversal was cost neutral. Swedish cities just changed the order of clearing snow. They didn’t
    increase taxes

  • michael catolico

    and they actually get something for their taxes instead of subsidies for the rich

  • Jason

    I think you replied to the wrong person…

  • Katherine

    And Swedes are on average much happier people than Americans. Imagine that. Free universal health care, free University, fantastic Social Programs… to name a few. I would happily pay more taxes to get all that and more.

  • Lauren Bertrand

    They also walk because many people in Sweden cannot afford cars. Most middle-class households have one car because that’s all they can afford. Young people bike everywhere in the Nordic countries because a vehicle is often out of reach for them financially until their late 30s or early 40s.

    Those high taxes come at a price, and the exorbitant cost of doing basic things is not something most Americans would stomach.

    I’m not sure Swedes are as happy about the astronomical increases in crime they’ve suffered in recent years, due to…well, gosh, the media seems pretty mum on the subject. And the suicide rates in Nordic countries are notoriously high, something these “happiest country” surveys quite consciously neglect to reference.

    But you’re more than welcome to donate all the money you wish to the State. Live the dream.

  • Yoko

    Many young American’s also cannot afford cars.
    It depends on your take on “afford.”
    If car ownership often comes at the cost of a car loan on top of student loans and possibly other debts (like CC debt), then many American’s can’t actually AFFORD cars either. They just buy them, because driving is a necessity in our society.
    http://www.who.int/gho/mental_health/suicide_rates_crude/en/
    I don’t think suicide rates are that far off either.

    I’ve never heard of Sweden painted as a particularly crime prone or dangerous country (where, unfortunately, I’ve heard criticisms of the highly publicized crime in the US), but either way I don’t think higher taxed countries are necessarily more dangerous than lower taxed countries.

    There are a lot of deep theoretical economic arguments on more vs less taxation, and I don’t think it’s wise to completely knock increases in tax revenue to offer more social services, if the pros seem to outweigh the cons in terms of safety+budget. No need to call it a donation to the state.

  • Dan

    Do not confuse “cannot afford” with “choose not to”. Most people in Europe can afford a car, but our extensive network of public transport and cycle paths means a lot of them choose not to buy one and use the money for other things.

  • Paul JaYmes

    Nonsense. Sweden is a richer country than the US. Almost everyone can afford a car. Many though choose to spend their money on other things instead because they don’t want or need one.
    I always chuckle at Americans banging on about how awful it would be to give money to “the state” and then think nothing of spending more than my monthly tax bill on overpriced healthcare. By the way, my tax bill includes free healthcare.
    It’s not *who* you pay that matters really is it, but the value for money you get from what you pay.

  • Sionna B.

    “Nonsense.” What a great way to shut down a conversation.

  • Paul JaYmes

    Sorry but if something is factually inaccurate, it’s nonsense. The original commenter presented no evidence or factual basis for his statements. They are simply not accurate, not correct, wrong, fake, made up – i.e. nonsense. This isn’t “a conversation” and I’m not shutting anything down, whatever that means, I’m simply pointing out that the original poster is talking out of his rectum.
    There is something, by the way, called “Hitchen’s Razor” which is relevant here – basically if you want to make a claim about something, it is down to you to substantiate that claim with evidence or facts, not down to anyone else to disprove it. Mr Bertrand presented no evidence or facts, I doubt he’s ever been to Sweden, as he clearly has no clue about the country, therefore his post was nonsense.

  • Gordon Wong

    Sweden’s suicide rate is equa to or lower than the US’s. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sovereign_states_by_suicide_rate

    Interestingly, though perhaps obvious, low suicide rates correlate with warmer weather.

  • DON’T PARK IN THE BIKE LANE

    Only in America do we see the use of public transit, walking, or bicycling as only associate with people who are so poor they have no options. Many people around the world, including in America, choose to not purchase a private vehicle. Unfortunately it is not always an easy choice in America, but that is our failure. They fact that the choice is easier in other countries is their success.
    As far as taxes go, if paying more taxes meant that we’d have significantly better infrastructure, less children going hungry, healthcare that won’t bankrupt people within reach for everyone, I would happily pay more in taxes.

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