Archive for November, 2015

Why Hämeentie should be a car-free street

Once again I was convinced that Helsinki is a great city to live in. Last Friday I found a pair of discounted fatbike tyres in the XXL Kluuvi outdoor store and rushed to fetch them in the middle of the day, instead of lunch.

I go almost everywhere by bicycle, as you might have noticed, but in this case I didn’t know if tyres are folding and I would be able to carry them on bike. I decided to take tram instead.

The whole operation took only 45 minutes. There are two tram lines, connecting my workplace and the store, which mean that I needed to wait the tram no more than a couple of minutes both on the way there and back. Trams run smoothly and the fair share of time I spent walking through the floors of the shopping center, finding the right shelf, then coming back to the lower floor and queuing in front of the cash-desk. The whole trip cost me only 1,5 € – a tram ticket for 60 minutes. No stress, no parking fees and a possibility to look at the city and people as tram is moving.

How it’s related with Hämeentie, you might ask. Well, my trip started and ended there. I work nearby and I know the place well. This is how the street looks now:

And this is how it will look in the future:

Hämeentie is a good place for a tram passenger, as you can see from the beginning of this entry. But it’s one of the unsafest streets in Helsinki for cycling. It’s repulsive for pedestrians as well. There are 20 000 of cars moving during the day through Hämeentie, causing constant noise and air pollution. Walking is not pleasant along Hämeentie and no restaurant has a terrace there. I avoid this street all the time, which is a pity because I avoid also nice small shops, located in the area.

The situation with Hämeentie is even more ridiculous because only 20% of households in the area own a car (and this doesn’t mean that all of them use it every day). People shouldn’t suffer from the absolutely unnecessary cars going through. This year 12 000 citizens signed a petition, demanding removing of pass-through car traffic from Hämeentie and creating bicycle roads along it.

City Planning Department made a scheme, which is simple and brilliant: current two lanes (one for buses and one for cars) will be merged into one (for buses and service traffic) and a bicycle road will be built between driving lane and pavement, separated from both of them. City council will approve (or reject) this plan tomorrow, on 17th November. I hope that they’ll approve it, but I am happy anyway that times are changing.

Last time the question of Hämeentie was discussed in 2009 and city council’s response was that there is no space for a bicycle lane on that street. At that time the idea of removing pass-through traffic was perhaps too new. Now it’s reality. More and more cities will prefer better space for citizens over smoother car flow.

Maybe it will take some time until we’ll see the changes implemented. Even if the city council approves the plan of the new Hämeentie tomorrow, there will be perhaps some outraging feedback from the local business owners. I believe that most of them already understand that their customers walk and use tram, but some still believe that cutting the car traffic will affect their business. Oh God, how? There are currently no parking spots at all along Hämeentie. And there are groundless fears like this in every city, which decides to reclaim public space back from cars to people, so I hope that Helsinki will survive this as well.

Thanks to everyone, who backed the Hämeentie petition! And to everyone who dares to cycle in the flow of fast-moving buses, making people aware of the problem!

Images by Helsinki Planning Department and Google Street View