Introducing European cycling and walking culture to Finland

Kalle Vaismaa

"In Finland, the City of Oulu has elevated bike lanes to the highest
category of winter maintenance. This means that if it snows for
two centimetres, the snowploughs clean up the lanes," says
Kalle Vaismaa.

Researchers are turning to Central Europe to find ways to increase the rate of cycling and walking in Finland. The magic words are convenience, speed and accessibility.

Environmental awareness and the negative effects of car traffic are encouraging researchers to get back on their bikes. Project Manager Kalle Vaismaa from the Department of Information Management and Logistics at TUT is heading a project, whereby the best practices for pedestrian and bicycle mobility are collected from ten cities in seven European countries and implemented into Finland. The research is funded by eight cities and three ministries in Finland.

Researchers did not have to be talked into joining the team, as they were understandably attracted to the opportunity to collect materials by roaming the streets of Geneva and Strasbourg. The steering group has responded with similar enthusiasm to the PYKÄLÄ project.

"We're aiming to create a high-quality visual tool that can be used, for example, to design intersections in a way that improves the conditions for cycling and walking. We're all highly motivated and feel that we're doing an important job," says Vaismaa.

Bikes equal to slow cars

The researchers took to the streets, among others, in cities in Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland. Many of the countries boast a strong cycling culture. Their traffic system that accommodates the needs of all users was formed decades ago. Cycling takes place away from the threat of motor vehicles on dedicated lanes and offers several advantages over driving, because the curbless lanes make cycling quick and comfortable.

"In Finland we've concentrated on building bike lanes that take you through the city, but that's not enough. The entire inner-city area must be accessible by bike," says Vaismaa.

The world's cycling capitals have devoted extra effort to ensuring that cycling is easy and convenient. Bicycle parking is readily available in spacious, roofed facilities. Car parks are located farther away from the inner-city and residential areas. Strict measures have been imposed to restrict inner-city car traffic, for example, by dividing the city centre into sectors. Drivers can move from one sector to another only via a ring road, in which case the journey takes markedly longer for a driver as opposed to pedestrians and cyclists. Car use can be reduced by making public transportation accessible and convenient outside cities.

Cycling

In some Dutch cities, a whopping
50 percent of all journeys are
currently made by bicycle.

Long-standing bicycle culture

When cycling rates between countries are evaluated, Denmark and the Netherlands stand out far above the others. They have invested time and effort into promoting cycling ever since the 1970s, even though they did not have to start from zero. In Copenhagen the first bicycle lanes were built as early as the 1910s and half of the current network of cycling routes was completed in the 1950s.

Car sales jumped in the 1960s, but this did not affect the number of cyclists in Denmark and the Netherlands as sharply as in many other countries. For example, in England the rate of cycling dropped to one percent as a result of the car boom, whereas the Danes and the Dutch were still making more than 30 percent of their journeys by bike. In fact, the rate of cycling climbed even higher as a result of government funding and popular movements to promote bike use.

"During the 1970s oil crisis, the Netherlands banned car traffic on Sundays. Back then the government funded as much as 80 percent of the construction costs of new cycling routes," says Kalle Vaismaa.

The investments have obviously paid off. In some Dutch cities, a whopping 50 percent of all journeys are currently made by bicycle. The cycling rate exceeds 30 percent in many cities in Denmark as well. This is mainly because these countries have made cycling a safe, convenient and practical way to get around their cities. In a survey more than 70 percent of Danes reported this as the reason why they had opted for cycling. Nineteen percent cycle for the sake of exercise and only one percent to protect the environment.

Walking is essential

Vaismaa, who has carefully observed pedestrian areas and streets in Europe, emphasizes the importance of walking as a form of exercise. European countries have long since understood that walking is as natural as can be and built extensive pedestrian areas in mid-city districts. In Finnish cities, however, similar areas are mostly found in shopping malls.

"Walking is the world's most natural form of exercise and should be encouraged. Walking re-connects us with the world," says Vaismaa.

Vaismaa sees the promotion of cycling and walking as a comprehensive undertaking that requires collaboration across a broad spectrum of stakeholders. Good results can be achieved, if urban planning takes all the aspects of city life into consideration. Odense, for example, has invited everyone, starting from industrial designers, to get involved in the planning process.

Finland's cycling capital Oulu sets an example on how the city's technical services department can support cycling.

"Oulu has elevated bike lanes to the highest category of winter maintenance. This means that if it snows for two centimetres, the snowploughs clean up the lanes. The City of Jyväskylä, among others, has made the same decision. Most cities wait until the snowfall reaches five centimetres before the ploughs move on to the bike lanes," says Vaismaa.

 

 

Text: Tarja Luukko
Photos: Tuuli Laukkanen, Kalle Vaismaa

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