”Finland is no longer one of the leading cycling countries”
Traffic engineer criticises government for forgetting bikers
By Antti Manninen
”When it comes to cycling policies, Finland was one of the leading countries in 1993, when the first national cycling programme was completed. Based on that programme, Finnish municipalities began to make plans to promote cycling”, says traffic engineer Antero Naskila, of the Urban Planning Department of the City of Helsinki.
He has been working to promote cycling in Helsinki since the beginning of the 1970s, earning the unofficial honorary title "Mr. Cycling".
During his career, cycling has penetrated the City of Helsinki’s traffic planning, while also winning the sympathies of officials and politicians to the cause.
”Today Helsinki is among the leading cities in Finland for biking, even though there is no political support from the highest levels of the state as yet”, says Naskila.
He is calling for the government to make a decision-in-principle on the promotion of cycling as well as for necessary funding to promote nationwide cycling.
In addition to public transport, cycling has also been mentioned in the government programme of Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen’s (Centre) second cabinet.
In practice, nevertheless, it has already been forgotten, according to Naskila.
”Until now, all that has been given is a promise that the next cabinet is to start preparing the matter in 2011”, Naskila says with some regret.
As a fresh engineering graduate, Naskila started as a traffic engineer at the Urban Planning Department of the City of Helsinki in 1971.
”The first task was to plan a cycling network in Northeastern Helsinki”, Naskila says.
In the end, among various traffic planning tasks, it was bicycle paths and the promotion of cycling that took all his time.
In fact, Naskila noticed that a plan for the first bicycle path network in Helsinki was made already in 1939, and it was even written down but never implemented, as Finland was at war from 1939 to 1945.
The planning of bicycle paths and other light traffic routes only began much later, starting from the city’s suburbs and outdoor recreation areas.
”For the architects in the City’s Urban Planning Department, it was somehow much more difficult to accept the idea of building cycle paths in the central city area and downtown. The risk was that cycling could disturb pedestrians by taking up too much space from pedestrian traffic."
A major change nevertheless occurred in the attitudes of city officials and politicians in the mid-1990s.
”At that point, a certain political will could already be found behind the cycling issue”, Naskila says.
A national cycling plan from 1993 set a goal stating that the share of cycles in traffic should be doubled by 2000.
The goal was not met, and neither was the programme implemented more than partially.
In Helsinki, the current target year is 2015, which is too soon.
According to the target, the share of bicycle trips among all journeys should be increased from 6 per cent to 12 per cent.
Mr. Cycling admits that a realistic target would now be 2020.
Traffic engineer Naskila admits that over the past few years he has been more like a cycling politician and a promoter of the cycling ideology than an actual planner of cycle paths.
When he talks, Naskila combines climate change, sports, public health, and entertainment into the cycling question.
”Money invested in cycling is peanuts compared with the advantages. According to calculations made in Copenhagen, one bicycled kilometre brings a profit of EUR 0.7”, Naskila argues.
According to Naskila, it is a lot. In addition to financial profits, one has to take into account environmental factors and personal satisfaction.
Helsinki has a network of around 1,200 kilometres of cycle paths, including park routes. In terms of trip numbers, cycling in the central areas of the Finnish capital is already more common than in the suburbs.
Antero Naskila, 65 this year, is to retire in the beginning of June.
One of his favourite projects, a handsome cycle path to run on the trackbed of the former harbour railway line connecting Ruoholahti to the centre of the city, could not be completed during his career, but it will be introduced next year.
Since 1997, Antero Naskila has acted as the chairman of the Network of Finnish Cycling Municipalities, and from now on, he will continue as the vice chairman of the same organisation.
He has also been the chairman of an executive committee for the project known as Suomi pyöräilee (”Finland Cycles”).
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 1.5.2009
Previously in HS International Edition:
HS test: Helsinki cyclists reach destinations faster than others (13.5.2008)
About 25,000 commute by bicycle to centre of Helsinki in summer (16.5.2007)
City of Helsinki: Cycling
European Cyclists´ Federation
ANTTI MANNINEN / Helsingin Sanomat