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.”

What Is Iceland Like in the Spring and Fall?

Hraunfossar Waterfalls in Iceland

Icelandic nature during shoulder seasons

During fall, Iceland’s nature takes on a unique palate of orange, maroon, and moss green, making autumn in Iceland a treat for your eyes. During the spring, the empty branches start blooming after a long winter’s rest, and the grass turns green again. Both fall and spring are excellent times to observe the rich birdlife of Iceland, as migrant birds pass through during this time. The well-known Atlantic Puffins arrive in April and stay until September. You can see the puffins in several places, but the most convenient way is to take a boat tour to Akurey island or Lundey island from Reykjavík harbour.

The weather in Iceland during fall and spring

During any season, Iceland’s weather can change often and quickly. Sometimes, you can even experience all four seasons in just one day! For this reason, it is best to be prepared and regularly check for weather updates and road conditions. In the fall, the average temperature is 4-7°C [39-45°F], and in the spring, 0-7°C [32-45°F]. In the spring, the daylight is, on average, 15 hours. During fall, it averages 10 hours. Fall and spring bring more rain than the other seasons, so bringing water-resistant coats and footwear may be a good idea.

The roads in Iceland

Route 1, often referred to as “the ring road”, will take you around the island with clear road signs and paved roads. However, some remote locations may only be accessible by gravel roads. You will not be able to travel to the Highland, as the F-roads that take you there are only open from June to August.

Foggy road in Iceland
Photo: Golli.

Driving safe

Due to rainfall, water can accumulate in the roads’ tyre tracks or other dips, causing hydroplaning. If this happens, slow down by letting go of the accelerator and pump lightly on the break if needed. Note that rain, fog, and snow can reduce visibility, especially during the darker hours. Make sure to never stop in the middle of the road or enter closed roads; it is illegal and can cause serious accidents. In case of an emergency, call 112. Make sure to bring essentials such as warm clothing, snacks and beverages, and to have a GPS/map at hand. It is good to familiarise yourself with Icelandic road signs before driving. For information regarding weather and road conditions, you can call 1777. With some preparation and research, you can have a safe and adventurous journey!

Northern lights in Iceland during spring and fall

Late fall and early spring are good times to see the northern lights, though never guaranteed. You can catch them yourself from wherever the skies are clear, but tours are available to see the northern lights shining brighter from better vantage points. The tours usually run from mid-September to mid-April, as the rest of the year brings too much daylight to see the aurora. You can view the northern lights forecast here. Note that the white areas on the map indicate clear skies and a higher chance of seeing them. You will see numbers in the upper right corner representing their activity level.

What is there to do in the spring and fall in Iceland?

Inside:

Iceland offers a diverse range of museums. In Reykjavík, Perlan museum has interesting interactive exhibitions presenting virtual northern lights and a man-made glacier, in addition to educational exhibitions on natural history and geology. Other museums in Reykjavík include the Maritime Museum, the Whale Museum, the National Museum of Iceland, and the Reykjavík Art Museum. Iceland offers a variety of restaurants and cafes where you can experience both Icelandic and foreign cuisine. You can browse Iceland’s unique art, clothing, and jewellery designs in local shops around the country.

Perlan Museum in Reykjavík, Iceland
Photo: Perlan Museum in Reykjavík, Iceland

Outside:

Hikes in areas such as Heiðmörk nature reserve and Þingvellir national park will bring you a new appreciation of the scenic nature of Iceland through lava, moss, lakes, and rich history. Road trips to the villages and towns of Iceland are a great way to experience authentic Icelandic culture. To keep warm during cold days, submerge yourself in some of Iceland’s many geothermal pools and lagoons. Mountains, black sand beaches, waterfalls, glaciers, and geysers are some of the natural wonders of Iceland worth exploring, whether on your own or by going on various excursions.

As summer and winter are the peak seasons of tourism in Iceland, fall and spring are more affordable for flights and accommodation while bringing fewer crowds. Whether chasing the aurora, exploring Iceland’s nature and its wildlife, or immersing yourself in the local culture, the shoulder seasons provide fascinating scenery for a vacation to remember.

 

Yellow Weather Warning Across South Iceland

yellow weather warning Feb 1 2024

Heavy rain and extreme thawing are expected across the Reykjavík capital area, as well as the western, southern, and southwest regions of Iceland tonight. The Icelandic Met Office has issued yellow weather alerts for the regions between 8:00 PM this evening and 6:00 AM tomorrow morning.

Rain and rapidly rising temperatures are expected to cause higher water levels in rivers and streams as well as an increased risk of flooding. Locals are advised to clear grates to prevent flood damage from rain and meltwater. Conditions are also expected to be slippery, due to rainfall on ice and compressed snow. Travellers are encouraged to exercise caution and monitor weather forecasts and road conditions regularly.

Icelandic Roads Least Lethal Worldwide

Route 1 Iceland

German car subscription service, FINN, has recently rated Iceland the number 1 nation “where you are least likely to die on the road.”

The survey included OECD member states and considered such factors as road deaths per 100,000, overall road quality, speed limits, traffic volume and levels, and percentages of alcohol-related road deaths.

Iceland came in first place for “least likely to die on the road,” with only 2.05 road death per 100,000. Peer nation Norway came in second place, at 2.12, followed by Switzerland in third, with 2.25.

The survey stated: “Despite poor weather conditions and many unpaved roads, Icelandic drivers are some of the least likely in the world to face fatalities on the road. Iceland is a hub for tourism, consequently, many popular roads around the golden circle and Reykjavik are tarmacked and well-maintained compared to the sparsely populated centre of the country which is connected by a network of gravel roads.”

Notably, this category was distinct from “safest roads,” which took more factors into account, such as those mentioned above. The Netherlands placed first in the category, followed by Norway, and a third-place tie between Sweden and Estonia. Iceland was rated 8th for overall road safety.

Argentina had the honour of taking first place for “most dangerous roads,” whereas Saudia Arabia placed first for “countries where you are most likely to die on the road.”

Lack of Funding to Maintain Westfjords Roads

2018 Vatnsnesvegur, A screenshot from RÚV

Many roads in the Westfjords and West Iceland have become dangerous due to lack of maintenance, according to representatives of the Road and Coastal Administration, RÚV reports. In both regions, a lack of funding has left roads in poor shape, posing risks for travellers. Infrastructure funding would need to be quadrupled to complete all of the maintenance and construction currently needed on West Iceland roads, says Pálmi Þór Sævarsson, the area’s regional director for the Road and Coastal Administration.

A driver narrowly avoided a rollover last Sunday on the road between Búðardalur and Bifröst in West Iceland. He stated that he lost control of the car due to the number of potholes in the road. Despite the road’s poor condition, the speed limit was set at 90 km [56 miles] per hour. Sæmundur Kristánsson, the head supervisor of the Road and Coastal Administration in Búðardalur, says the road where the near-rollover occurred is narrower than the standard width. While widening the road is on the agenda, its financing has not yet been approved.

Pálmi Þór says similarly poor road conditions can be found across West Iceland, the Snæfellsnes peninsula, and the Westfjords, and they point to a larger problem across the Icelandic countryside: a lack of funding for road maintenance. Iceland has a “maintenance debt” that has been built up over many years, says Pálmi, and many roads are starting to give way under increasing traffic. The problem needs to be dealt with before it goes from bad to worse.

Busy Weekend for ICE-SAR on Hellisheiði Pass

winter weather iceland

ICE-SAR was busy until late into the evening on Hellisheiði pass this past Sunday. Severe weather left several people trapped in their cars after a significant traffic accident, which reportedly involved up to ten vehicles.

Hellisheiði is the mountainous pass between South Iceland and the Reykjanes peninsula and can present travellers with very difficult conditions during the winter.

Of the individuals involved in the traffic accident, several were transported to the emergency room in Reykjavík, though none were reported as seriously injured. In addition to assisting potentially injured drivers and removing damaged cars from the road, ICE-SAR was also busy evacuating individuals from their vehicles and bringing them back to town.

According to a representative from ICE-SAR, approximately 150 people were assisted yesterday.

Members of ICE-SAR from throughout the region were present, including from Selfoss, Hveragerði, Reykjavík, and Þorlákshöfn.

Hellisheiði pass was closed for much of yesterday due to the weather, but is currently open at the time of writing. Travellers are advised to check conditions and heed weather warnings when driving in Iceland.

This winter has been noteworthy for the number of weather warnings issued. While 2020 saw the most weather warnings in total issued, the winter of 2022 saw a record number of orange and red warnings. In total, 84 of these extreme weather warnings were issued.

 

Deep North Episode 13: Cream of the Crop

The local milk truck drving across the winding roads of the Westfjords

Row after row of steep but flat-topped mountains, interspersed with deep fjords. There’s barely enough land in between to make up a coastline, let alone farmland. But on the green patches between the cliffs and the waves, there are still more than a handful of farms dotting the landscape. The Westfjords have always been isolated, but after World War II, when the rest of Iceland experienced a period of sped-up industrialisation, the Westfjords were left behind. Once-thriving communities were slowly drained of life when the young people moved south, and a series of economic setbacks made life difficult for the ones that remained. and new generations still find ways of making it work.

Read more about life in the Westfjords in Cream of the Crop.

Reykjavík City Lowers Speed Limit on More than 150 Streets

Aerial view of Reykjavík city traffic during winter

The 50 km/h speed limit common on many Reykjavík city streets will soon be a thing of the past, as speed limits throughout the city are to be lowered.

New speed limits will be either 30 or 40 km/h on many roads throughout the capital region.

See also: Reykjavík to Cap Speed Limits

The changes which are to be implemented were agreed upon in April of this year. However, the changes are expected to take much of the coming year, so Reykjavík motorists will have some time to adjust.

Notably, however, the changes will not apply to roads that are operated by authorities other than Reykjavík city. Many major arterial roads, such as Sæbraut, Kringlumýrarbraut, Miklabraut, Hringbraut, and Reykjanesbraut are administered by the Icelandic Road Administration, and will not be affected by the new, lower, limits.

The goal of the reduced speed limits is to promote road safety within the city.

For a complete overview of the affected streets, see RÚV.

Reykjavík City Proposes New Fee for Winter Tires

winter tires reykjavík

The Environment Agency of Iceland has introduced a new plan for air quality in the capital region which would advise local authorities to introduce new fees for studded winter tires, reports Fréttablaðið.

According to air quality expert at the Environment Agency, Þorsteinn Jóhannsson, there now exists the political will to push through these new regulations, which would aim to both improve air quality by lessening the particulate matter in the air, and also lessen wear on the capital’s roads.

Some, according to Þorsteinn, have stated that this would amount to a further tax burden on Iceland’s already-struggling rural communities. Because of the conditions during winter, it is practically a requirement for Iceland’s rural population to use studded tires. Þorsteinn, however, has clarified that the fee would apply principally to the capital region, and that visitors with studded tires to the capital would pay a daily fee. In this way, it would function much like a parking fee.

According to Þorsteinn, investigations show that studded tires cause 20 to 40 times as much wear to roads as non-studded. Þorsteinn also notes that although the legal season for winter tires is from November 1 to April 14, there are already many studded tires on the road in Reykjavík.

Alexandra Briem, chairperson of the city council, has also stated her support for such a fee, noting that additional methods to reduce air pollution and wear on roads are needed.

More information on car ownership and regulations can be found at the Icelandic Automobile Association.

The Road to Borgarfjörður Eystri Now Paved

Borgarfjörður eystri east iceland

Residents of Borgarfjörður Eystri, a village in East Iceland, can now drive on paved roads all the way to Egilsstaðir.

The last section of paved road was completed earlier this month, a 15 km [9.3 mi] stretch near the town of Eiðar was finally paved.

Read more: Paving the Way to the Last Town in East Iceland

Héraðsverk, the contractor responsible for finishing the road project, reports that it was difficult going. The final section required significant blasting to clear the way. Now, however, a straight and wide road runs where there was previously a winding, gravel road with potholes.

The region has seen significant improvements in infrastructure in the last years, with a new road recently finished near Njarðvík. Residents also protested in 2018 by paving sections of road themselves to highlight inaction on behalf of the municipality.

Fragile Hope: How a programme to revive struggling villages in rural Iceland is rewiring collective mindset

 

With the recent improvements, all towns in the Fljótsdalshérað municipality are now connected via paved roads, a major milestone for this remote region of Iceland.

Eyþór Stefánsson, a resident of Borgarfjörður Eystri and representative in Múlaþing’s local council, is quoted as saying: “It’s amazing what’s happened in such a short time. We set off to fight to get sections of landslide-prone roads paved, but then this all started to happen incredibly fast.  We had hoped to improved the road from Eiðar but it turned out much better than we reckoned. They’ve taken away the blind rises, so now it’s a properly straight and wide road, practically a motorway.”