Urban Design Contest Envisions a Carbon-Neutral, Car-Free Future

The City of Reykjavík has launched an open design competition to “create a dense, mixed, diverse, and carbon-neutral new urban quarter” in Keldur, an underdeveloped area on the eastern outskirts of Reykjavík. Streetsblog reports that the contest, which will accept submissions until mid-April, is open to anyone—not just professional designers and urban planners—and will be judged anonymously by a team of local officials and international expert advisors.

The finalists from the first round of the competition will receive €50,000 [$53,582; ISK 7.7 million]. The final winner will receive an additional €50,000.

Where is Keldur?

Sandwiched between the neighbourhoods of Grafarvogur, Úlfarsárdalur, Grafarholt, Halsar, and Höfðar, the 288-acre parcel that, according to the Keldur Competition Brief, city officials are dividing into Keldur East and Keldur West, is a 30-minute bike ride away from downtown.

via Keldur Competition Brief

The area is currently served by four bus routes “with stops in the vicinity” but once the city unveils its new bus route and the first phase of the Borgarlína Rapid Transit (BRT) service in 2026-27, Keldur will have much more direct public transportation options to and from the city centre. Officials estimate that travel time on the BRT from Keldur and Lækjartorg will be approximately 20 minutes.

‘Against excessive parking’

While the building of a new residential community on the outskirts of a city might naturally imply high car ownership, “officials are are recommending against excessive parking,” explains Streetblog, and have “already promised to devote 100% of the profits from the development and sale of the land towards bringing frequent bus rapid transit service to residents. More broadly, the contest organizers called on entrants to ‘prioritize the eco-friendliest, most compact, and least cumbersome mode of transportation’ in their designs.”

Brad Toderian, one of the international experts serving on the Keldur competition’s judging panel, applauds the City of Reykjavík’s focus on creating “a truly urban place, not just a better suburb,” one that is “not just a little less car dependent, but that’s truly multimodal.” Toderian says that from a North American perspective, the competition is unique not only in that it accepts submissions from anyone, but also because “it’s more ambitious than North America is usually willing to be in these kinds of contexts.”

Cycle city

In addition to linking to the BRT, the Keldur neighborhood is intended to attract cyclists and encourage two-wheeled transit. The contest brief particularly emphasizes the “importance of integrating the region into the city’s ambitious Cycling plan — the city wants 10% of all trips to be taken on two wheels by 2025 — creating reliable pedestrian connections to surrounding areas, and making sure residents can meet their basic needs with a twenty minute walk or less.”

“BRT has a prime role to play,” says Toderian, “but it’s also about walkability and bikeability; it’s about carbon neutrality; it’s about green building design.”

Read the full Streetsblog article, in English, here. The Keldur Contest Brief (also in English), with information about how to submit a design proposal is available here. Queries about phase one of the project will be accepted until March 17, 2023; submissions will be accepted until April 19, 2023.

Deep North Episode 12: Public Transport Funding

Strætó bus Reykjavík miðborgin umferð fólk

With ambitious climate goals, rising oil prices, and an energy transition underway, many Icelandic politicians want to de-centre the private automobile. One might assume that public transportation in Iceland would simultaneously see increased support. Sadly, this has not been the case, and in addition to large budget deficits in 2022, public bus service Strætó has seen significant cuts in service, alongside some of the largest price hikes in recent years.

Read more about the funding of public transportation in Iceland in our recent In Focus piece.

Borgarlína Budget Balloons, But the Real Figure is Disputed

public transportation iceland

New information on Borgarlína reveals that the project, which is due to begin “visible construction” this year, is over budget by a significant amount. The exact total, however, remains disputed.

In Focus: Public Transport Funding

Borgarlína is a bus-rapid-transit system intended to alleviate Reykjavík’s traffic problems. The lack of long-term urban planning in Reykjavík city has long been heavily criticized. Because the development of Reykjavík has centred around the construction of suburbs, commute times have increased and air quality has decreased as more and more Icelanders are forced to rely on their cars. The Borgarlína project, in development since 2015, aims to alleviate these problems by introducing a rapid transit system to the capital area, complete with bus-only lanes.

However, recent information on the cost of the project has raised eyebrows among some officials.

In an editorial in Morgunblaðið today, Mayor of Kópavogur Ásdís Kristjánsdóttir, wrote: “This joint project between the state and municipalities in the capital area is urgent. However, it is part of the responsibility of those who support the agreement and provide it with funds from the taxpayers’ pockets to stop now and reevaluate the plans.”

The exact figure of the budget increase has been disputed, and not all agree.

According to some sources, the project may be overshooting its budget by as much as ISK 50 billion [$375,000,000; €330,000,000].

Read More: First Phase of Borgarlína Project Delayed by One Year

Other estimates give the number as ISK 17 billion [$121,000,000; €113,000,000].

A major reason for the budgetary overshoot is the construction on Sæbraut, where it was decided to build a traffic channel instead of an intersection.

Davið Þorláksson, a project manager for Transport for the Capital Area (TfCA), has clarified that the misunderstanding arises from price comparisons with older figures. Given the duration of the project, inflation, and other growing costs, he claims it’s a matter of apples and oranges.

 “It’s just not possible to compare figures from 2019, when the transport agreement was signed, with today’s figures in 2023. They just aren’t comparable. At today’s prices, the estimated cost that was originally expected would be ISK 148 billion, but now stands at around ISK 164 billion. The difference between these is about 17 billion.”

Construction on Borgaræína is expected to begin this year.


First Phase of Borgarlína Project Delayed by One Year

borgarlína rapid bus transit

The construction of the first phase of Reykjavík’s rapid bus transit line Borgarlína has been pushed back by a year. According to the updated schedule, the first section of the line will be operational in 2026, not 2025 as previously expected. Davíð Þorláksson, the CEO of Transport for the Capital Area (Betri samgöngur) says various factors have caused the delay.

“As the project advances, the variables decrease, and the plan becomes more precise,” Davíð told RÚV. “Now the timetable for the first phase is being updated. The line from Hamraborg to downtown Reykjavík will be delayed by one year.”

The Borgarlína project is technically complex, Davíð says, and adds that the initial timeline for the rapid transit service was unrealistic, as it did not take into account other construction projects in the capital area. “We need to coordinate this with for example the construction of the tunnels under Miklabraut and Sæbraut and so on. So, there are many things that are causing the timeline to change.”

A notice on the Transport for the Capital Area website states that COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine have also delayed the project’s first phase.

Borgarlína aims to upgrade sections of existing road infrastructure with long stretches of dedicated public transport lanes. It is spearheaded by the city of Reykjavík, in co-operation with surrounding municipalities including Hafnarfjörður, Kópavogur, and Mosfellsbær. Borgarlína lanes will be exclusively for public transportation vehicles (and emergency services).

The first phase of Borgarlína also includes the construction of a bridge over Fossvogur bay. The bridge will be exclusively dedicated to public transport vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians.

Is there any news on Borgarlína or the airport train?

Public bus in Reykjavík

Borgarlína is a bus rapid transit system designed to enable environmentally-friendly, people-oriented transportation in the capital area of Iceland. The project has been in development since 2015 and involves upgrading existing road infrastructure to include long stretches of separated public transport lanes. In June 2022, it was announced that the first section of the project would be delayed, with completion now projected for the year 2026 instead of 2025. It is not clear whether this will affect the overall deadline for the Borgarlína project, set for 2033.

Next to Borgarlína, no other railway or light-rail proposals are being considered in Iceland. There has, however, been some discussion regarding the possibility of constructing an airport rail link, called the Lava Express. The Lava Express is an ambitious project involving 49km [30 mi] of train tracks (of which 14km [8,7mi] underground) between Keflavík Airport and the capital area, with BSÍ bus station as the terminus in Reykjavík.

The average speed of the train would be 180kph [112mph] with a maximum speed of 250kph [155mph] resulting in a travel time of 15-18 minutes compared with a travel time of 40-50 minutes in a private car or a taxi. The construction time of the project is 48-60 months. The last estimate was that work on the project could begin in 2022 and that it would take three years to finish, but as funding was problematic even before COVID started, the project will not start any time soon.

Fossvogur Bridge to Be Completed in 2024

Fossvogur bridge Borgarlína

The winning design of a new bridge that will connect Reykjavík and Kópavogur municipalities across the Fossvogur inlet has been revealed, RÚV reports. The bridge will be completed in 2024 and will not be open to private vehicles, rather will be exclusively dedicated to public transport vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians. The winning design was completed by Icelandic company Efla Consulting Engineers in collaboration with UK-based BEAM Architects.

“The winning proposal provides for a bridge with a rapid cycling lane, for those who want to cross quickly, there are lanes for public transport and the Borgarlína rapid bus transit line in the middle, and on the other side there is a path for those who want to walk or cycle more slowly,” explained Bryndís Friðriksdóttir, regional manager of capital area projects at the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration.

The bridge, named Alda (e. Wave) is part of an ambitious 15-year transport plan for the Reykjavík capital area that includes the development of a rapid bus transit line, called Borgarlína. Alda is the first major construction project associated with the new transit system. “It’s part of what we call the first phase of Borgarlína, which is the Borgarlína route that runs from Hamraborg to the city centre and connects Reykjavík University, the University of Iceland, and the National Hospital, and then onward from the city centre along Suðurlandsbraut up to Ártúnshöfði so it’s a big part of getting Borgarlína and the new bus system up and running,” Bryndís stated.

The full cost of the bridge is yet to be determined, but Bryndís says the next step will be to examine costs it in detail. It will be funded by the transport agreement between the state and capital area municipalities. The Borgarlína website shows a video simulation of the completed bridge. Read more about the Borgarlína project.

Changes to Bus Regulations Also Limit Foreign Coach Operators

Public bus in Reykjavík

Passengers will be able to enter buses at all doors and will not be required to show the bus driver a ticket or pass according to regulations that were approved by Iceland’s parliament before it adjourned earlier this month. Mbl.is reports that it will soon be possible to fine passengers who did not pay bus fare. The new regulations also better define the role of foreign tour bus drivers that work in Iceland on a temporary basis.

Jóhannes Svavar Rúnarsson, CEO of public transportation company Strætó, states that the regulations will be convenient for the rapid bus transit line (Borgarlína) that is in the works for Reykjavík. The vehicles operating on the line will have several doors with ticket scanners where passengers will be able to enter and pay, and paying on the platform may also be an option. While drivers will no longer be checking that passengers have paid their fares, it will be possible to fine those who don’t up to ISK 30,000 ($244/€205). An increasing number of passengers pay their fare through a pre-purchased pass or via the Strætó app.

In Focus: Borgarlína Transit Project Splits Opinions

The regulations also limit the length of time coach drivers from the European Economic Area can work in Iceland to 10 days at one time. This regulation applies to drivers whose permit was issued abroad. The regulations are yet to be implemented.

Growing Support for Rapid Bus Transit Line


Reykjavík capital area’s planned Borgarlína rapid bus transit line has never enjoyed more support than it currently does, according to a new survey conducted by Maskína. The company reports that more Icelanders support the Borgarlína project now than at any time since survey taking began in early 2018. Over 54% of Icelanders are in favour of the public transportation project while around 22% are against it.

Read More: Borgarlína Project

A higher proportion of women are in favour of the Borgarlína project than men, or 57.6% compared to 51.2%. More men oppose the project, or 28% compared to 16% of women. Highest rates of support were found among Icelanders between the ages of 30-39, 69.6% of whom are in favour of the project. Those 60 and older are the least supportive of the Borgarlína, with only 45% of the age group stating they are in favour of the rapid transit line.

Residents of Reykjavík were most likely to be in favour of the Borgarlína project, particularly those living in or near the city centre (77% in favour), with residents of Garðabær coming in second (71% in favour). The only region where a higher proportion of residents were against the project than reported in previous surveys was East Iceland, where 37.9% of respondents stated they were against the project.

When education levels were taken into account, university graduates were more likely to support the project (63% in favour and 17% against) while those with an elementary school diploma were most likely to be opposed to the Borgarlína (28.4%). Many more individuals with junior college or applied diplomas are in favour of the project than one year ago.

The survey results are based on 884 responses. The survey was carried out between June 7 and 24, 2019.