February Marks Highest Ever Traffic Levels in Capital Area

Renting a car can be a great way to get around Reykjavík

February experienced the highest traffic volume on record in the capital region, with a 6.7% increase from the previous year. Predictions by the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration indicate a potential 4% rise in traffic for the current year.

Slow Sundays, busy Thursdays

February saw an unprecedented volume of traffic in the capital region, marking the highest levels ever recorded for this month. Traffic increased by 6.7% compared to February of the previous year, based on three key measurement points of the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration in the capital area.

The most significant rise in traffic occurred on the Vesturlandsvegur road above Ártúnsbrekka in East Reykjavík, while the most minor increase was noted on Reykjanesbraut near Dalvegur in Kópavogur. According to the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration’s website, cumulative traffic (the total amount of vehicle movement or traffic flow recorded over a specific period) has grown by 5.2% so far this year.

Traffic peaked on Thursdays in February but was lowest on Sundays, although the most significant year-on-year increase was seen on Sundays. The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration’s calculations suggest that traffic in the capital area could rise 4% this year compared to the last.

“With only two months into the year, the traffic division’s forecasting model of the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration suggests that there could be an increase of just over 4% in traffic in the capital area, based on the mentioned measurement points, compared to last year.”

Mumps Diagnosed in Reykjavík Area

doctor nurse hospital health

A case of mumps was diagnosed in Iceland’s capital area in early February. Now, a second person connected to the first case has also been diagnosed with the illness. Mumps is a viral respiratory infection that has been quite rare in Iceland since 1989, though a few outbreaks have occurred since then.

Those who were exposed to the positive mumps cases have been informed by health authorities, according to a notice from the Directorate of Health. Those who were exposed and are unvaccinated were advised to stay away from others to reduce the risk of infection. The gestation period for mumps is about three weeks, so it is possible that other cases will emerge in Iceland.

Vaccination is the most effective protection against mumps and has been routine in Iceland since 1989. Since 2000, a few outbreaks have occurred, mainly in people born between 1985-1987. Older cohorts are generally considered immune due to frequent outbreaks prior to 1984.

Rates of measles rising in Europe

A case of measles was diagnosed in Iceland recently as well, in an adult traveller who had recently arrived from abroad. Chief Epidemiologist Guðrún Aspelund stated that measles infections are on the rise in Europe, which increases the likelihood of an outbreak in Iceland.

Bus Fares to Rise by 11 Percent

public transportation iceland

Strætó, the public transport company which operates city buses in the Reykjavík capital region, has announced a new price structure. The change comes into effect on January 8 and bus fares will rise by 11 percent on average, Viðskiptablaðið reports.

A single fare will now cost ISK 630 [$4.60, €4.20], up from ISK 570 [$4.20, €3.80]. Strætó last raised its prices in September of 2022, when a single fare cost ISK 490 [$3.60, €3.30], citing higher fuel prices. This amounts to a 29 percent hike in the 16 month period.

No price changes outside of the capital area

The decision was made by the Strætó board, according to a press release, and ratified by the ownership committee, representatives of the six capital area municipalities who own the company. They are Reykjavík, Kópavogur, Hafnarfjörður, Garðabær, Mosfellsbær and Seltjarnarnes.

“The operational status of Strætó was considered before making the decision, as the accumulative effects of the Covid pandemic can still be felt,” the press release said. “The higher prices also help alleviate higher operating costs for Strætó and increased payroll costs and reduce the need to cut back on Strætó services in the capital area.”

The new price structure only applies to Strætó’s capital area routes and no changes have been made to the prices for routes outside of the capital area.

Will the situation on the Reykjanes peninsula affect the capital area?

Reykjavík

Many travellers to Iceland have asked about the potential impact that a volcanic eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula might have on Reykjavík. While the usual caveats apply here (when and where the eruption will occur is difficult to tell with precision), the current consensus is that the capital region will remain largely unaffected.

That being said, Reykjavík residents and visitors alike could feel some side effects of the next major eruption in Iceland.

Reykjavík services and utilities

In a worst-case scenario, an eruption could disrupt operations at Svartsengi, a geothermal power plant and the main supplier of water and power to the Reykjanes peninsula. While the Reykjavík area sources its power from other plants, if operations at Svartsengi are disrupted, power from other plants may have to be diverted to keep the lights on in the region. Last winter also saw hot water shortages throughout Iceland, and a disruption to Svartsengi could exacerbate heating prices during the winter. For travellers, this might mean that public pools and geothermal spas could face closures or shortened opening hours.

Draft legislation has also been proposed that would raise property taxes in order to help fund the construction of protective barriers around Svarstengi. A similar increase to sales tax was also introduced to aid in reconstruction after the 1973 Heimaey eruption in the Westman islands. Though these taxes would not be directly passed on to travellers, it is possible that prices could indirectly rise in the wake of a tax hike.

Impact on travel

There has been concern during past eruptions on the Reykjanes peninsula that lava flows could disrupt Reykjanesbraut, the main transport artery between Reykjavík and Keflavík International Airport. This is not currently a concern, as it will likely surface somewhere near the town of Grindavík, located on the south coast of the Reykjanes peninsula.

The latest information from the Icelandic Met Office provides a map of the projected lava flow:

grindavík fissure
Icelandic Met Office Nov 11

Several roads have also been damaged due to seismic activity in the area. Grindavíkurvegur, the main road connecting Grindavík to Reykjanesbraut, was closed on November 10 due to damage. However, road closures are not expected in the capital area.

reykjanes road closures
Umferðin.is – November 13

Though the next eruption is expected to be significantly larger than the previous Reykjanes eruptions, its probable location means that air traffic will likely be unaffected. Located on the south coast of Reykjanes, prevailing wind patterns ought to blow any volcanic fumes south and east, away from the airport.

Health concerns

Previous eruptions have, however, caused some air pollution in the capital area. During the 2022 Meradalir eruption, those with preexisting conditions such as asthma, in addition to children and elderly people, were encouraged to avoid outdoor activity on some days when wind patterns brought the pollution to Reykjavík. As of right now, it is too early to say how an eruption near Grindavík will affect air quality in Reykjavík.

The situation on the Reykjanes peninsula is still unfolding, and it goes without saying that travellers should exercise common sense, stay informed, and listen to the authorities. However, the situation poses no immediate threat to Reykjavík and the greater capital area, and disruptions to the rest of the nation are likely to be minimal.

Resources

In addition to following our news coverage, travellers and residents alike may find the following resources useful:

The Icelandic Met Office

SafeTravel, for travel warnings and tips for staying safe.

The Icelandic Road Administration and its live map of road closures throughout Iceland.

The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management.

A live webcam stream from Þorbjörn mountain.

 

 

Fire in Hafnarfjörður Industrial Building Used for Housing

Slökkvilið höfuðborgarsvæðisins bs / Facebook. Fire in Hafnarfjörður, August 20, 2023

Seventeen people were registered as residents of an industrial building in Hafnarfjörður in the Reykjavík capital area that was heavily damaged when a fire broke out yesterday. The building was not approved for housing. A couple and a family of four were sleeping inside the building when the fire broke out but were woken up by good samaritans who saw the rising smoke and ran over to help. No injuries or fatalities have been reported.

The fire broke out at Hvaleyrarbraut 22 around noon yesterday, and firefighters did not manage to quell the flames entirely until around 4:00 AM this morning. Duty Officer Þorsteinn Gunnarsson of the Greater Reykjavík Fire and Rescue Service said the building was heavily damaged and a part of it had been torn down in order to put out the fire.

Saved a family of four from the flames

Guðrún Gerður Guðbjörnsdóttir called emergency number 112 immediately when she spotted the fire. When she realised it was in the building where her daughter lived, she made her way in. “I ran up the stairs, jumped onto the roof and ran to the window where my daughter lives,” Guðrún told RÚV reporters. She managed to open the window and wake up her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend. There was already a lot of smoke in the apartment when she reached them.

Another civilian working near the building told reporters that he had run over when the fire broke out and woken up a family of four that was fast asleep inside the building. The family managed to escape to safety. The building was also used as storage and firefighters did their best to save valuables that were stored on the lower floor of the building, though accessing the storage rooms proved difficult.

Likely more than 17 living in the building

Birgir Finsson, Acting Fire Chief of Greater Reykjavík, says 17 people were registered as living in the building, which was not approved as residential housing. He stated that it was likely, however, that even more had been living there. “Residing in commercial [or industrial] buildings is still not permitted, though there is a lot of it in the capital area,” Birgir stated.

Following a fatal house fire in June 2020, Icelandic authorities launched an investigation into housing conditions in Iceland that found that between 5,000 and 7,000 people were living in properties classified as commercial or industrial buildings in Iceland in 2021. The Minister of Infrastructure drafted an amendment to fire safety regulations last month in efforts to ensure more people have their actual residence registered correctly and make it easier for authorities to enter housing where fire prevention measures may be inadequate.

Iceland’s Popularity Grows – Among Walruses

Köfunarþjónustan ehf. / Facebook. A walrus takes a break in Sauðárkrókur, Northwest Iceland

No fewer than four walruses have wandered over to Iceland so far this year. Walruses are not native to the country but since the start of this year, individuals have made stops in East Iceland, the Westfjords, Northwest Iceland, and the capital area. Walruses can be dangerous and readers are warned against approaching them.

Last Thursday, archaeologists working on a dig in Arnarfjörður in the Westfjords spotted a walrus out in the water. It was later spotted sunning itself on the shores of the fjord near Hrafnseyri, RÚV reports, and stayed on into the weekend. Just a few days earlier, a different walrus made himself at home on a floating dock in Sauðárkrókur harbour in Northwest Iceland. “It’s our new pet,” port security officer Ágúst Kárason told reporters. “He’s damn big and hefty, an adult with big tusks.”

Followed to work by walrus

In early June, a staff member of the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute in Hafnarfjörður, in the capital area, was accompanied by a walrus on his morning commute. “I was biking and he followed me from Herjólfsgata street to Fjörukráin restaurant by Strandgata street. There he turned around and swam out into the fjord,” Jón Sólmundsson told reporters. “He was also curious, there were some people that stopped to watch him and he seemed to be considering them too.”

Yet another walrus spotted in Breiðdalsvík, East Iceland in February turned out to be celebrity walrus Thor, who had spent the winter sightseeing around the UK with stops in the Netherlands and France. Walruses seen in Iceland generally arrive from the shores of Greenland or from northern Norway, but Thor may have travelled from the Canadian Arctic. There were no indications that any of the four walruses were the same animal.

Swam from Ireland to Iceland

More walrus visits have occurred in Iceland over the past few years. One was spotted on June 17, 2022 in the town of Reyðarfjörður, East Iceland. A GPS tag on the animal revealed that it had swum over from the Faroe Islands. In September 2021, a walrus spotted in Höfn, Southeast Iceland turned out to be Wally the Walrus, who had been previously spotted in Spain, Wales, and the Isles of Scilly (off the UK coast). Wally had last been seen in Cork, Ireland before being spotted in Iceland, meaning he had swum over 1,000 km [620 mi] to reach the island.

Icelandic subspecies went extinct after human settlement

Iceland used to be home to a special subspecies of walrus, but it became extinct around 1100 AD, most likely due to overhunting by humans. Walrus tusks were considered precious at the time and were sought-after by royalty in Scandinavia and elsewhere. Other factors, such as rising temperatures and volcanic eruptions, may have been factors in the animals’ extinction as well.

Surprise “Spring Snow” in Reykjavík

spring snow downtown Reykjavík

Capital area residents in Iceland opened their eyes this morning to a blanket of white outside their window. Snow began falling yesterday and measured 10 cm [3.9 in] deep this morning at the Icelandic Met Office. While residents of Reykjavík and the surrounding area are not unused to seeing some falling flakes at this time of year, Meteorologist Teitur Arason of the Icelandic Met Office says this much snow in late April is indeed a rare occurrence.

“In the last 75 years, there have only been 4 instances of this much snow falling in the Reykjavík area in the second half of April,” Teitur told Iceland Review. A high-pressure front coming in from the south that brought spring-like weather to Iceland in recent weeks shifted above Greenland last weekend, he explained. It was replaced by a small low-pressure system, bringing the snowfall that is uncharacteristic for this time of year.

spring snow downtown Reykjavík
Golli. Spring snow in Reykjavík on April 27, 2023.

While Reykjavík skies remain clear this morning, South Iceland will receive its fair share of snowfall today, and travellers in the area are encouraged to check conditions before heading out. Teitur says the capital area may see more snowfall tonight. Weather in the area is then expected to remain cold, even dipping below the freezing mark in the coming days but should warm up from Tuesday or Wednesday next week.

Confesses to Killing in Manslaughter Case

police station reykjavík

A girl who was released from custody last night in connection with the death of a 27-year-old man filmed the incident on her phone, RÚV reports. She asserts that the conflict was mostly between two individuals and that she did not inflict violence on the victim. One of the four suspects in the case has confessed to killing the victim, who was a Polish national.

Around midnight on April 20, law enforcement was tipped off to a confrontation between four people and the victim in the parking lot of Fjarðarkaup grocery store in Hafnarfjörður, a town in the Reykjavík capital area. Police arrived shortly after to find the victim, who was transported to the emergency room with several stab wounds and pronounced dead shortly after. The four suspects are Icelandic youth, three male and one female. The oldest suspect is 18 and the other three are under 18 years of age.

Read More: Manslaughter Case Raises Concerns Among Immigrant Community

The 17-year-old girl was remanded in custody until Thursday, April 27 but Landsréttur Court of Appeal repealed the ruling yesterday. The ruling states that the girl reported that shortly after she and her two companions exited a restaurant in Hafnarfjörður, one of them (who remains in custody) and the victim got into a fight. She stated that the conflict was mainly between the two of them and that she stayed 5-8 metres away during the fight and recorded it on her phone, as her parents had advised her to do if she found herself in an unsafe situation.

The phone recordings are said to support the girl’s statement and are being considered key evidence in the case. Police have completed all interrogations of all suspects in the case and believe they have a clear picture of the sequence of events that led to the man’s death.

Reykjavík Public Buses See Increase in Ridership

public transportation iceland

The Reykjavík capital area public bus service Strætó has seen an increase in ridership in the past several months. The increase is seen as far back as December, but recent labour strikes that may affect petrol supplies may be having an effect. Strætó CEO Jóhannes Svavar Rúnarsson told mbl.is the service is prepared for more riders and for the impact strikes may have.

“We’ve seen a lot of ridership in recent months, even before the strike,” Jóhannes Svavar stated. “Whether that is connected to the strike, I won’t assert just yet.” Diesel supplies are running low in the capital area due to an ongoing strike among oil truck drivers, and the same may happen to petrol supplies if the strike continues. Were capital area commuters forced to leave their cars at home, an increasing number may turn to Strætó to get them from A to B. Jóhannes Svavar says the service is prepared. Strætó’s own fuel supplies would last the company about two weeks in the case of a fuel shortage, according to Jóhannes Svavar.

Heavy snow in December may have also encouraged commuters to opt for public transportation rather than private vehicles.

Read more about public transportation in Iceland.

Housing Prices in the Capital Area Continue to Fall

Reykjavík apartments construction

The house price index in the capital area fell by 0.5% month-on-month in January. In the last three months, the index has decreased by 1.4%, which is the biggest decrease over a three-month period since August 2010. This is noted by Landsbanki bank’s Hagsjá report.

Housing market showing significant signs of cooling

The Landsbanki bank published its Hagsjá report this morning. The report, referring to data published by the Housing Construction Authority yesterday, notes that apartment prices in the capital area fell by 0.5% between December and January. This is the third month in a row that the index has decreased between months. Such a long continuous decrease has not been seen since the end of 2009. Decreases between months at that time were, however, somewhat greater than what is seen now.

“Nevertheless, this measurement and the latest trends,” the report reads, “indicate that the market is starting to show significant signs of cooling. This will contribute to the lowering of inflation, just as the Central Bank’s actions – which now seem to be yielding some results – have aimed to do … it is obvious that the market in the capital area has started to cool down considerably.”

The report notes that the price of detached houses decreased by 0.74% month-on-month, while apartment prices have decreased by 0.4%. In the last three months, detached houses have decreased by 4%. The cooling of apartment-building prices has not been as rapid; in the last three months, the price of apartments has decreased by 0.7%.

“The annual increase in the house price index is now 14.9%, which has not been lower since May 2021,” the report points out.

Fewer purchase agreements signed

Hagsjá also notes that the number of purchase agreements signed for residential property has not been lower since January of 2011, or 280. In comparison, 529 purchase agreements were signed last December.

“It should be kept in mind that these are preliminary figures, which are subject to change as more purchase agreements are received by the Housing Construction Authority. The month of January is often quiet in the housing market, but this most recent January appears to stand out.”

The report concludes by saying that the housing market is starting to show rapid signs of cooling: “The Central Bank has implemented various measures to stem rising inflation, e.g. increasing its interest rates significantly and tightening borrower conditions, which now seem to be producing the desired results.”