Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Biking and walking the world greener

Congested highways, plenty of time wasted on the roads between point A and B, deteriorating quality of air – these are issues, which plague not only the metropoleis of the global world. The general trend is that the number of cars is increasing regardless if the city is located in east, west, north or south. As ordinary people became more wealthy in the latter part of the 20th century, and still continue to do so, this wealth manifested itself in increased number of private cars. In the 1960’s less than 20 percent of all the trips taken in the city of Oulu were made by car. This is not the case anymore in the new millennium - more than half of the trips are made by private cars. The modal split between different means of transportations has changed significantly in the past 50 years in Oulu, and similar trends can be found around the world. In the city of Dubna, which is located about 100 km north of Moscow, the amount of cars per population has become almost ten times higher in the last 30 years. The problems of this avalanche of cars are visible, as the streets have been designed for much less traffic. The growth rates vary greatly by country and by region, but clearly something has to be done. Maybe it would make sense to turn the wheel back a little – at least with a few years? 

Back in the 1960’s walking and cycling were mass movers of people also in Oulu. Cars were still expensive, the city was smaller and the distances within the city were shorter. Even though cycling and walking are not the main movers in Oulu anymore, the city has profiled itself as a bicycle-friendly city, with a vast and comprehensive bike road network. Cycling and its role in the making of our cities more environmental friendly was the topic, which was discussed in Green Ways seminar, which was organized as part of the Greensettle project (KA192) at the University Oulu on May 14th. The problems of heavy private car use are quite clear also in Oulu, and there does not seem to be any instant relief to the long hours spent on the road, to the increases of harmful emissions of the exhaust fumes nor to the high economic costs in the form of fuel and car prices. Or is there? 

Over 40 percent of all car trips made in Finland are less than 5 kilometers long. Surely trips of that length could be made by a bike, couldn’t they? Have we just become too lazy and self-indulgent? Biking or walking is not only beneficial for your wallet, but it also improves your health and actually increases your expected lifetime by years. A short car trip can last longer during the rush hour than one taken by bike. Naturally, the investments in biking infrastructure are not free, but neither are those in highways. However, investments in bicycle roads pay back many times in the form of positive impacts of cycling. More can be done and should be done to increase walking, biking and public transportation and reduce private car use. This challenge has to be taken seriously also in planning of new cities and new city districts, as has been done in Oulu. The new Hiukkavaara district, which will be a home for 20000 people in future, will be a green city once it has been completed, also from the point of view of traffic and transportation. Sharing the experiences and know-how cross the border helps us to make our cities more pleasant for everyone. The challenges are the same, but solutions are available, if we want to take this problem seriously. 

More information about Hiukkavaara, Oulu in general, Dubna, and all the other presentations of the Green Ways seminar, can be found from here: http://nortech.oulu.fi/GREENSETTLE/GreenWaysseminar.html Let’s all think twice whether we need to take the car for that short trip to work/supermarket/somewhere else, right?

The website of the Greensettle project is at http://nortech.oulu.fi/GREENSETTLE/ The annual Oulu bicycling week takes place on 16.6.-20.6.2013.

Niko Hänninen

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