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DRIVING

These parts of Switzerland are set to introduce a 30km/h speed limit

Almost all major Swiss cities are set to introduce speed limits of 30km/h in the coming decade. Here are the plans - and whether it’s likely to happen.

A sign indicating a speed limit of 30km/h
The majority of Swiss cities are set to introduce a speed limit of 30km/h on all urban roads. Photo by Yassine Khalfalli on Unsplash

In December 2021, the magistrate in Zurich, Switzerland’s largest canton, announced that by 2030, a speed limit of 30km/h would be introduced on almost all the city’s roads. 

Currently, there is a maximum of 50km/h across the cities roads, but within a decade the limit will be capped at 30km/h in built up areas. 

Zurich however is not the only city, town or village to put in place such rules. Several others have already started rolling out expanded 30km/h zones, while more are planned across the country. 

Which Swiss cities are set to follow suit? 

Lausanne has already put a 30km/h cap into effect, while in Bern around two-thirds of the roads have speed limits at or lower than 30km/h. 

30km/h zones are the majority and are being expanded in Basel and Lucerne, while similar plans are in place in Geneva, Freibourg and St Gallen. 

As The Local reported in 2021, the city of Winterthur, also in the canton of Zurich, would be putting in place limits of 30km/h on all urban roads. 

Additionally, the limit would be further reduced to 20km/h in certain residential areas. The changes will be introduced gradually, with the speed limit set to be reduced to 30km/h in busy areas like the old town and district centres by 2025. 

The reduction in speed limits is part of a broader trend sweeping Europe, with both the European Union (EU) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) advocating lower speed limits in cities.

Several Austrian cities have put in place lower limits decades ago, while a 30km/h zone has been in force in Oslo since 2019. 

In 2021, Barcelona, Paris, Brussels, Antwerp, Hanover, Dublin, Rome, Florence, Pisa, Bologna, Amsterdam and London have also put 30km/h speed limits into force. 

Why are speed limits being introduced?

Authorities want to cap speed limits at 30km/h to make streets safer, more pedestrian friendly and to reduce both pollution and noise. 

Barcelona mayor Ada Colau’s citywide efforts to reduce speed limits have been primarily motivated by improving air quality, Swiss tabloid Blick reports. 

Furthermore, reducing the speed limit from 50km/h to 30km/h improves noise by three decibels. 

Tests show that cars travelling at speeds of 50km/h need 27 metres to stop, compared to 13 metres at 30km/h. 

By reducing danger, many urban zones will become more pedestrian friendly as well as encouraging other modes of transport like cycling. 

The 30km/h limit will also apply to cyclists, although it’s a lot harder to get past 30km/h on a bike as it appears. 

Will the efforts to introduce the limits be successful?

Unsurprisingly, the reductions have attracted significant criticism. 

Several automotive associations have come out against a general change, including the Touring Club Switzerland (TCS), the public transport information service (Litra), the Swiss Trade Association (SGV) and the Swiss Fire Brigade Association (SFV). 

Litra says public transport could become less attractive if buses were slower, while the SFV warned emergency vehicles could be slowed on the way to urgent interventions (not by the speed limit, but by other traffic adhering to the new limit). 

SGV president Fabio Regazzi warned the changes “will inevitably lead to longer delivery times for local shops and to traffic jams.”

The population also tends to be against the changes, with roughly two thirds opposing a general requirement in a December poll by Swiss tabloid Blick. 

The opposition of the population may however mean little, at least for the meantime, if Lausanne’s example is to be followed. 

Before Lausanne introduced a citywide 30km/h limit, 55 percent of the population opposed and only 38 percent supported it.

What happens if I exceed the limit?

As with all speed limits, they are set to be enforced with fines. While the fines don’t change with the introduction of the 30km/h speed limit, the fines are levied by how much you exceed the limit. 

Up to five kilometres over the limit will net you a fine of CHF40, which rises to CHF120 from five to ten kilometres over the limit. 

Up to 15ks will be CHF250. Over that amount, and higher penalties including criminal charges may be levied. 

EXPLAINED: What you should know about speeding fines in Switzerland

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TRAVEL NEWS

The roads and dates to avoid driving in Switzerland this summer

With schools beginning their holiday break, traffic on Swiss roads will be particularly heavy in the coming days and weeks as many people will head south and west in droves.

The roads and dates to avoid driving in Switzerland this summer

With flight cancellations and other disruptions expected at Swiss and European airports this summer — not to mention soaring air fares — many people are opting to remain in Europe, driving, rather than flying, to their holiday destinations.

Given all these impediments to air travel, “we assume that vacations by car will be more popular than ever this summer”, according to Jürg Wittwer, director of Touring Club Suisse (TCS) motoring organisation.

However, even road travel will not be without glitches.

“It is necessary to anticipate heavy traffic and bottlenecks on the roads leading towards Italy, France, Spain and Portugal” — the most popular vacation spots for tourists from Switzerland.

How can you make your trip smoother — and quicker?

If possible, you shouldn’t plan to hit the road on the busiest days, such as the weekend, Wittwer said. “If you really want to travel faster, you should take your vacation from Wednesday to Wednesday, rather than from Saturday to Saturday”.

Each year, TCS publishes the Traffic Jam Calendar, which lists the times of the year when traffic can be particularly bad, ranking days on four different traffic levels.

The standard days, with ‘normal’ traffic  are in white, while slightly higher traffic days are in yellow. 

Days with a high traffic volume are listed in pink/orange, while very high traffic volumes are listed in red. 

Traffic calendar from Touring Club Suisse

READ MORE: What is Switzerland’s ‘traffic calendar’ and how can it help me save time?

You can also save time by avoiding the roads that are typically most congested during holidays, such as the south-bound Gotthard and Simplon tunnels.

These are usually the most congested roads in Switzerland:
 

  • The A3/A1 Basel-Zurich axis
  • The A3/A13 Zurich-Chur-San Bernardino-Bellinzona-Chiasso axis, particularly near Chur and the San Bernardino tunnel
  • Bern and surroundings (A1/A12/A6 interchange)
  • The A9 Lausanne-Montreux-Martigny-Brigue mainly near Lausanne and Montreux
  • The Martigny – Grand-St.-Bernard tunnel axis

You can avoid these bottlenecked routes by taking alternative roads, which may require a detour and are longer in terms on kilometres, but they are likely to get you to your destinations quicker.

For example, instead of queuing up, possibly for hours, at the Gotthard tunnel, you can opt for the Gotthard Pass instead, just as motorists had done before the base tunnel was inaugurated in 2016.

The winding, curvy mountain road, peaking at 2,106 metres, will not only have less traffic, but also provides spectacular views.

Likewise, you can take the Simplon pass instead of the tunnel, also a more scenic route.

Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

If there’s truth in saying that “getting there is half the fun”, then taking the longer but more picturesque route could prove to be more enjoyable.
 
In fact, if you choose secondary roads to avoid congested highways, Swiss geography is such that you almost always have to drive through mountain passes. While they do require some driving skills, they are virtually always paved, so unless you stray off the proverbial beaten path, it will be a smooth ride. (In fact, all of Switzerland’s public roads are paved).

This link provides more information about Swiss mountain passes.

To sum up, if you travel mid-week rather than on weekends and opt for secondary routes, you just might get lucky and not end up in a (traffic) jam.

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