New Walking Bridge Over Jökulsá í Lóni

The bridge construction team of the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration has completed the construction of a new walking bridge over Jökulsá í Lóni River. The old was destroyed in a storm during the turn of the year. The completion of the new bridge was a priority for the Road and Coastal Administration as it is important for travellers and hikers in the Lónsöræfi region. The river is dangerous in the summertime when glacial meltwater increases the water flow. Those who try to wade the river close to Múlaskáli cabin can face problems.

Jökulsá í Lóni is a glacial river in South-East Iceland which flows out of the east side of Vatnajökull glacier down into the beautiful Lónsöræfi area. The first bridge in the area was built in 1953, crossing at Múlasel. A new 95-metre long bridge was constructed in 2004, becoming the longest walking bridge in Iceland when it opened. That bridge was destroyed in late 2018.

Lónsöræfi is a beautiful area between the Jökulsá í Lóni river and Vatnajökull glacier and is considered a great hike. There are numerous hiking lodges in the area. For more information on Lónsöræfi and the surrounding area, head to the website for Vatnajökull national park: https://www.vatnajokulsthjodgardur.is/en/areas/snaefell-lonsoraefi/interpretation-and-knowledge/about-lonsoraefi

The bridge construction team achieved a great feat as they had to transport a lot of instruments and materials on foot up the treacherous Illikambur ridge. The also had some difficulties with the wind while constructing the bridge, according to bridge smith Sveinn Þórðarson. The team started working on the bridge in May, completing it on June 21.

When asked what was the hardest part of the construction, Sveinn had this to say: “Probably the physical labour. We had a digging machine which could help with loading and unloading from vehicles. But when we had set up the bridge towers, the digger left, and we needed to do it all manually by hand. We had to carry a substantial amount of material, and our guys were completely spent after each day. We also had to return home two times due to severe winds which stopped all work. The walk to and from the car was difficult, especially in Illikambur.” It was not all doom and gloom, however. “We are somewhat used to spending many days and nights together in the working camps. But we didn’t have individual rooms in our lodge nor did we have any phone or internet connection. Therefore we started to play Trivial Pursuit while dinner was being prepared.” Sveinn says that the group enjoyed playing Trivial Pursuit so much that they have asked for the Road and Coastal Administration to purchase the board game so they can play it in the evening on other construction projects.

Demand for Ash Scattering on the Rise

Applications for ash scattering in Iceland have increased substantially in recent years. The District Magistrate’s Office received 50 applications in 2018. Close to half of the applicants were foreign citizens who do not permanently reside in Iceland, RÚV reports.

There’s an ever-increasing number of people who choose to burn their earthly remains once they have passed away. The same is also true of relatives who wish to scatter the ashes of the deceased. People have applied to scatter ashes in beautiful locations such as Reynisfjara, Gullfoss, and Skógafoss, to name a few. However, the scattering of ashes is prohibited in these places. Halldór Þormar Halldórsson, from the District Magistrate in North-East Iceland in Siglufjörður, explains that certain criteria have to be met.

“It’s evaluated in each case, but it’s preferable to head to mountainous areas without people. The law states that it is expected that ashes should not be scattered close to populated areas. It has been interpreted that it is therefore permitted to scatter ashes at sea and in uninhabited areas, in places where there is no traffic, far away from populated areas.”, Halldór stated in an interview with RÚV.

The increased of travellers heading to Iceland in recent years has led to an increased interest in scattering ashes in Icelandic nature. “We’ve heard many different explanations. People have visited the country, or seen pictures of the Northern Lights who are excited by the idea of Iceland. In some cases, it is folks who have visited Iceland as travellers, either the deceased or his close relatives. It’s mainly folks from the United States, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, as well as a little from the Netherlands, who are interested in it,” Halldór said.

A sacred resting place in Eyjafjörður?
There have been ideas afoot to established a sacred resting place in the middle of Eyjafjörður fjord, where people have permission to scatter the ashes of their relatives. Halldór believes that the idea needs to be inspected to ensure the laws about scattering ashes are followed. “There’s nothing that bans people from scattering ashes wherever in the sea, as long as it is not within harbour areas. But if we are talking about one specific place where people want to scatter ashes, then people will always to apply for permission for that. I can’t envision a reason to stop people from scattering ash more in a specific place, rather than any other place. However, it is stated in the law that it is forbidden to label or distinguish the place, but it is out on the sea so it could be marked out by GPS coordinates,” Halldór stated.

City of Reykjavík Considers Rush Hour and Pollution Tolls

Hafnarfjörður traffic

The City of Reykjavík is looking to implement so-called rush hour and pollution tolls in order to reduce car traffic, Vísir reports. Such tolls have proven successful in big cities abroad, not only in reducing traffic but in providing a significant stream of income for municipalities. Icelandic municipalities have been considering ways to reduce air pollution, which is believed to be the cause of 80 premature deaths per year across the country.

Sigurborg Ósk Haraldsdóttir, chairperson of the Planning and Transport Council of the City of Reykjavík, says rush hour tolls would be implemented in locations around the city with high traffic congestion during peak times. The tolls would be collected electronically and would only be charged during peak times.

“It has been shown that this has a direct impact on drivers’ behaviour,” Sigurborg says, “that is they are much more likely to change their mode of transportation. That’s what we want. We need to change travel behaviour and modes of transportation, not just because of the effects of air pollution on air quality, but also simply because of climate change. We know we have to reduce car traffic.”

Municipalities in the Reykjavík capital area have expressed interest in implementing such tolls, suggesting that the earnings could be used toward improving transportation infrastructure. The same goes for pollution tolls, which would be charged based on the type of vehicle. “Those who drive vehicles that pollute more would be charged more,” Sigurborg explains, adding that such tolls have a direct impact on drivers’ choice of vehicle.

Male Drivers More Likely to Cause Serious Traffic Accidents

traffic accident Iceland

Men are significantly more likely to engage in risky behaviour while driving and have been at fault in 14 of 15 serious traffic accidents that took place in Iceland last year. The data comes from the Icelandic Transport Authority’s annual accident report, which also shows a record high number of tourist deaths in driving-related accidents in 2018. RÚV reported first.

Dramatic gender divide in 2018 accidents

According to Gunnar Geir Gunnarsson, the Transport Authority’s Head of Safety and Promotion division, the gender divide in traffic accidents is not usually so dramatic. As a rule, men make up two-thirds of drivers, and there’s usually a similar proportion of men involved in minor traffic accidents and incidents.

“But when we examine serious accidents, then we can see that men are the drivers in the vast majority of them,” explained Gunnar. “Generally, there’s either risky behavior or some kind of recklessness that they haven’t thought all the way through. Especially with fatal accidents, there is often drunk driving, speeding. Drug use in some instances,” he concluded.

Young victims, private vehicles

There were 15 fatal traffic accidents in Iceland in 2018, which led to 18 total deaths. Of these, 12 victims were men and six were women or girls. Eleven of the victims were 36 years old or younger. Nine of the victims were Icelanders, six were foreign tourists, and three were foreign nationals living in Iceland. One fatality was related to a drunk driving incident. Twelve of the victims were driving in passenger cars, four in delivery trucks, one on a tour bus, and one on an ATV.

Young drivers are often involved in traffic accidents, mostly due to their inexperience, Gunnar explained. There has been the most dramatic increase in traffic accidents among this demographic of late. Fatal traffic accidents have also been on the rise among tourists, which Gunnar credits, at least in part, to unfamiliar driving conditions in Iceland.

“…Six people died in traffic incidents last year—there have never been more in a single year. But the trouble they get into is more about a lack of knowledge about Icelandic conditions. It’s not many of them who are under the influence of alcohol, rather that they drive too fast on icy or gravel roads—something like that.”

Fewer accidents in 2019

While driving-related deaths spiked in 2018, the first three months of 2019 showed no fatal traffic accidents at all in the country. Experts say better driver education and higher rates of seatbelt use are among the factors working together to reduce accident mortality in Iceland.

Direct Flight from Egilsstaðir to Tenerife to be Offered in the Fall

Direct charter flights from Egilsstaðir in East Iceland to Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands will be available starting this fall. Mbl.is reports that a similar, limited-time package vacation will be offered from Akureyri to Tenerife in January 2020. The travel agency scheduling these flights says this is an opportunity to better serve Icelandic travelers who live in rural areas.

This will be the first time that a direct flight to Tenerife from Egilsstaðir will be possible, although Ásdís Pétursdóttir, the spokesperson for VITA, says the travel agency offering the trips says that it has made a point of scheduling special getaways departing from Iceland’s rural airports. “In order to serve our customers in the regions, VITA has regularly offered flights to various foreign destinations from both Akureyri and Egilsstaðir, but up until now, these have mainly been city breaks.” She noted that the trip from Egilsstaðir to Tenerife has generated a lot of interest and is almost sold out.

Jakob Ómarsson, the marketing director for VITA says that similar trips from Akureyri to Tenerife have been offered previously and he hopes that these will be able to be offered more regularly in the future, although it is currently possible to say how often would be feasible. “We have, at any rate, a great interest in serving our customers in the regions and offering them direct flights to the sun,” he said.

Twice as Many Travellers Offsetting Their Carbon Emissions

About 100 people have offset the carbon emissions from their flights to and from Iceland so far this year, which is already double the number of people who did so in 2018. RÚV reports that four thousand trees must be planted on one hectare [2.47 acres] in order to accomplish this balance.

Travelers wishing to offset the carbon emissions generated by their travels can register on the website of the Kolviður Fund. The fund was established by the Icelandic Forestry Association and the Icelandic Environment Association with the support of the Icelandic government and aims to “reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere by increasing the carbon sequestration of forest ecosystems, binding the soil and reducing soil erosion, increasing public awareness and the awareness of companies in regard to greenhouse gas emissions, and promoting education on related issues.”

In addition to individual travelers, as many as 60 companies have also registered to offset their own carbon footprints through the website. “We’re figuring on planting around 150,000 trees this summer around Úlfljótsvatn lake,” explained Kolviður chairman Reynir Kristinsson. “It was around 100,000 last year.” It could take around 60 years for trees to achieve full carbon sequestration, he continued, but the plants will be considerably effective after even just ten years.

Two flights to Tenerife from Iceland generates as much pollution as one family car over the course of an entire year. As Icelanders become more habitual travelers and take a growing number of trips abroad, an increasing number of people are experiencing flugskömm, or flight shame, over the negative effects that increased air travel has on the environment.

Eighty-three percent of Icelanders traveled abroad last year—the highest percentage of citizens to do so since 2009. Even so, multiple surveys have shown that Icelanders are less willing to change their travel habits out of concern for the environmental impact than they are to change their consumption habits at home. 52.6% of respondents said they were planning a city break abroad in 2019, 43.5% were planning a holiday in a “sunny country,” and 34.7% said they’d be visiting friends or relatives who live abroad.

Landeyjahöfn Harbour Opens Following Maintenance Delays

Herjólfur ferry Landeyjahöfn harbour

Herjólfur ferry sailed its first trip of the year between Landeyjarhöfn and the Westman Islands this morning, RÚV reports. It’s a much shorter journey than the one to Þorlákshöfn harbour, where the ferry sails during the winter months. Landeyjarhöfn fills with sand during the winter, which must be pumped out to make it usable again each summer season. Local authorities say that although the opening is a cause for celebration, it’s much later than hoped for.

Costly maintenance

Some 4,300 residents live in the Westman Islands in South Iceland and rely on Herjólfur ferry to access the mainland. Last year Landeyjahöfn opened for the summer season on March 5, nearly two months earlier than this year. Since the harbour opened in 2010, it has required regular maintenance to maintain enough depth for the ferry’s use. The cost of this maintenance, at more than ISK 3.3 billion ($27 million/€24 million), has already exceeded the cost of the harbour itself.

Unnecessary delays

Westman Islands mayor Íris Róbertsdóttir says the opening of the harbour doesn’t change the fact that the Road and Coastal Administration needs to find more effective ways of maintaining the harbour, an initiative for which Minister of Transport Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson has also expressed support. Westman Island authorities have complained that the company contracted by the Road and Coastal Administration to see to the harbour maintenance does not have the adequate equipment to carry out the work, and therefore unnecessarily limits the harbour’s usage. While pumping maintenance depends largely on weather conditions, Björgun was criticised for not taking advantage of several good-weather days over Easter weekend to deepen the harbour, thereby further delaying its opening for the season.

Deepening continues

Though the harbour has reached the minimum depth for usage, maintenance will continue over the next days to deepen it further. Passengers who have trips booked with Herjólfur are advised that its itinerary could change, and to check for updates on Herjólfur’s website.

Development in Highlands Could Have Negative Impact, Says Planning Agency

Kerlingarfjöll mountains.

Building additional infrastructure and lodging facilities at Kerlingarfjöll mountains in the Southern Highlands would have a negative impact on the current planning policy for the area, RÚV reports. This is stated by the National Planning Agency in its assessment of four different plans for infrastructure development at the popular tourist site. The Agency expressed its belief that further development would place environmental strain on the area and could have significant negative impacts.

Kerlingarfjöll was recently placed on the Environment Agency’s Red List of natural areas at considerable risk. It is not officially designated as a protected area. The company Fannborg, which operates tourism in the area, proposed four different options for infrastructure development at Kerlingarfjöll to the National Planning Agency. While the first option focuses on improving existing structures in the area, the other three involve additional construction and development. The third and fourth options, in particular, would increase the amount of lodging to accommodate nearly 300 guests and make the area one of the largest accommodation establishments outside of the capital area.

The Planning Agency considers the third and fourth options to both negatively impact visitors’ experience of nature in the area, as well as put additional strain the environment by increasing the number of visitors. While option two involves a minimal increase in accommodations for visitors, it is considered to have a minimal impact on the surrounding environment.

Icelanders Feel ‘Flight Shame’ Over Increased Air Travel Emissions

Eighty-three percent of Icelanders traveled abroad last year—the highest percentage of citizens to do so since 2009. This data was published in a report by the Icelandic Tourist Board, which also found that on average, Icelanders took 2.8 trips out of the country in 2018. Although climate change issues have become increasingly prominent in the public consciousness, Kjarninn reports that that Icelanders are generally unwilling to reduce the number of flights they take. As such, a new Icelandic word has been coined to describe Icelandic travelers’ guilty conscience over the negative effects that increased air travel has on the climate: flugskömm, or ‘flight shame.’

The Icelandic Tourist Board has conducted its survey on Icelanders’ travel habits since 2009. The survey asks respondents to comment on their travels during the previous year as well as what their travel plans are for the coming one. The percentage of Icelanders who travel abroad has steadily and dramatically increased. In 2017, 78% of Icelanders had traveled abroad; in 2009, only 44% had. As of last year, then, this percentage has nearly doubled.

The actual number of trips that Icelanders take abroad has also gone up significantly. While the average number was 2.8 trips in 2018, 12% of respondents said they’d taken five or more international trips in 2018, 20.7% said they went on three trips, and 44.9% said they went on three or more trips.

Looking ahead, Icelanders don’t seem to have any intention of decreasing their trips abroad, either: 52.6% of respondents said they were planning a city break abroad in 2019, 43.5% were planning a holiday in a “sunny country,” and 34.7% said they’d be visiting friends or relatives who live abroad.

Iceland’s emissions have been on the increase in recent years. Last year, the country’s greenhouse gas emissions were equivalent to 4,755 kilotons of carbon dioxide (excluding the LULUCF emissions from 2017). This is a 2.5% increase in emissions from 2016 and a 32.1% increase since 1990. Increased tourism has played a large part in this increase—the tourism industry has more than tripled in size since 2012. It’s five times larger than it was in 1995.

Air travel is, obviously, a big part of Icelandic tourism and the country’s increased greenhouse emissions are mostly attributed to the aviation sector. Per data published by the Environment Agency of Iceland, emissions from flights to and from Iceland increased by 13.2% between 2016 and 2017. Emissions in 2017 amounted to 813,745 tons of carbon dioxide, although this can’t be considered a final total because it only accounts for flights taken within the EEA. As such, emissions from flights to and from the Americas, the EU, and other parts of the world are not accounted for by that data.

Multiple surveys have shown that Icelanders are fairly unwilling to change their travel habits in order to lessen their environmental impact, even as they are open to changing other environmentally unfriendly habits. A Gallup poll taken in January showed that in the previous twelve months, more than half of Icelanders had changed their daily grocery shopping habits to lessen their environmental impact. In addition, just under two out of three Icelanders noted that they had made behavioural changes because of the environment. Meanwhile, 40.8% of Icelanders said they had not changed their travel habits to reduce their environmental impact in the last 12 months. About 20% said that they’d changed their travel habits somewhat and only 5.2% said they’d changed them significantly. It appears, therefore, that Icelanders are more willing to change their consumption habits based on environmental concerns than they are willing to change their travel habits.

Long-Term Parking at Airport Completely Full Over Easter

The long-term parking lots at the Keflavík Airport are at full capacity for the third Easter holiday in a row. RÚV reports that the airport’s long-term parking lots closed just before 5:00 PM on Wednesday afternoon because all of the 2,600 on-site parking spaces had been filled.

The Easter holiday is a very popular time for Icelanders to travel, both within the country and abroad. Isavia’s service manager, Gunnar Ingi Hafsteinsson, said that travelers are advised to book their long-term parking spots in advance of popular travel weekends. As of lunch time on Wednesday, 95% of the long-term lot was full. By comparison, on a normal day, only 50 – 60% of the airport’s long-term parking lot is booked.

At least two other companies offer their own valet service and offsite parking options close to the airport. However, it looks as though these companies also have fully booked up during the holiday season. For instance, Smart Parking, which has 400 parking spots, reported that its lot was fully booked until April 22. And as of Wednesday afternoon, it also looked likely that Base Parking, which has nearly 1,000 parking spots, would also fill to capacity this weekend.