Swiss town creates fake traffic jams to ward off tourists

Swiss town creates fake traffic jams to ward off tourists

How far would you go to reduce the number of drivers that pass through your town every day? Start an awareness campaign? Launch a referendum perhaps? For one town in the Swiss canton of Graubünden, the solution is even more sneaky: they have been creating fake traffic jams to get motorists to stay away.

Domat / Ems suffers from excessive traffic problem

According to 20 Minuten, the small town of Domat / Ems suffers from excessive amounts of traffic, especially during the holidays. As home to a frequently jammed-up motorway - which is the gateway to the San Bernadino Pass and Italy, top ski resorts and other destinations in the mountains -  many travellers ditch the A13 that bypasses Domat / Ems in favour of a road that goes straight through the centre of the town.

According to the local council (Gemeinde), much of the problem stems from map applications that are able to record and compensate for traffic jams in real time. If there is a jam on the A13, Google Maps often suggests a quick detour through the town, clogging up the streets for residents. Therefore, to help locals, officials in Domat decided to exploit the technology.

Swiss authorities trick Google Maps

During the weekend of Ascension, locals started to notice that cars were being stopped by traffic wardens for two minutes by the side of the roundabout at the Plarenga shopping area. This stationary traffic “tricks” apps like Google Maps into thinking that a horrifically-long jam similar to those seen at the Gotthard is occurring in the town of 7.141 people. Sure enough, after enough stops, the A13 “shortcut” through the town is highlighted in bright red as having a traffic jam.

Needless to say, there are still teething problems to be overcome, especially around public transport. 20 Minuten noted that as soon as the local bus passes through uninhibited, the fake traffic jam comes to an end. Local drivers are also not entirely keen, as they now have to sit for two minutes in a fake traffic jam in order to deter a real one.

Tricking traffic apps is legally dubious, officials note

Community association member Daniel Meyer told the newspaper Südostschweiz that "the benefit of the system is questioned by a large majority… we still have the cars in the village.” He added that road calming measures implemented by other villages in the canton - where motorway exits are closed to tourist traffic - seem more popular and effective.

Unfortunately, for Andreas Pöhl, project manager for traffic management at the Graubünden Civil Engineering Office, both methods fall into a “legal grey area.” Technically speaking, blocking streets for tourists could go against federal law, he added.

With Whit Monday just around the corner, towns in Graubünden are preparing to face even more traffic trying to go through their villages. In response, the Civil Engineering Office confirmed that they were conducting a long-term study into what they can do legally to solve the problem.

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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