This guest blog entry from San José Trail Manager Yves Zsutty answers the timeless question, "What's so great about Helsinki?"
On a recent trip to Helsinki (capital of Finland), I was able to visit the city’s newest addition to its extensive network of off-street trails and on-street bikeways.
The newly opened trail extends across an older area of the city. It makes use of a subterranean railway corridor that is no longer in service. From above, the trench feels forbidding at first glance with its dark stone walls and alley-way appearance. But once in the corridor, it feels bright and open – the presence of seating, attractions and many walkers and bicyclists further improves the atmosphere. The Baana bicycle corridor
is probably well used because it provides an off-street link to two major destinations and functions as a cross-town route. The corridor links the former dockyards that have been redeveloped with high density housing and a former railway yard that is now home to cultural facilities, employment and the nearby central train station.
I’ve linked an article about the Baana that provides some additional information:
Pedestrians are separated from two-way bicycle travel by lane striping. Space is reserved on the shoulders when possible for seating. Armchairs and benches are placed along the away. Near bridges and other entry points, staircases provide access via stairs and narrow and steep parallel ramps. Where space permits, the corridor also includes amenities to encourage people to participate in sports or relax.
As the trail reaches the residential area, it widens and assumes the same grade as nearby housing towers. This open space is allocated to basketball, ping-pong, and benches situated in rows for optimum sun exposure during shorter days of the year. The area also has a large concrete “sculpture” proudly stating that you are in Helsinki. Large benches and platforms appear to be in place to accommodate sun bathers. In northern climates, it is important to get your Vitamin D whenever the sun is out.
Away from the trail, Helsinki is well-served by bike routes defined by color and/or special pavement and placed mostly within the sidewalk zone. As a visitor, you are always watching your back and making certain you aren’t in a bike lane. This is a different perspective from the US, where our bicycle facilities tend to be defined within the roadway right-of-way.
Bike rental options are provided through a multi-station Bike Sharing system similar to what we are seeing more and more in the US. San Jose should be seeing its downtown Bike Sharing program later in 2012 as part of a regional system that includes Peninsula cities and San Francisco. Helsinki also has a few vendors that rent bicycles from storage containers. A large inventory of bike racks in all public spaces support trips throughout the City to housing, commerce and retail.
From my short visit, I can offer a list of success factors that we might seek to replicate in the US:
- A large, interconnected network of on-street and off-street bike facilities
supports greater usage of bicycles as primary transportation.
- A culture that absolutely respects the pedestrian’s right of way as long as he
or she is willing to exercise that right.
- Bicycles are everywhere and appear to be seen as an equivalent and
respected form of transport to cars and buses.
- Bicycling is promoted to tourists with information in hotel lobbies, bike rentals
for select hotels, and good web content for pre-planning.
- The Baana bicycle corridor serves more than walkers and bicyclists – it is
much needed park space for residents and visitors.
Yves Zsutty is Trail Manager for the City of San Jose. San Jose has one of the nation’s largest urban trail networks with a Green Vision goal of doubling mileage to 100 miles by 2022. Yves enjoys traveling in his free time and likes to bring back new ideas for deployment along San Jose Trails. www.sjparks.org/trails Twitter; SanJoseTrails