Thursday, 25 January 2007

Themes - Transport (First Draft)

The efficiency of the city’s traffic and transport system is an important factor in its future prosperity, both in terms of its quality of life and general productivity. Cities are increasingly competing to attract a skilled workforce: congestion and an inefficient public transport are not selling points for any city.

On a typical weekday the inhabitants of the metropolitan area make 3.6 million journeys. Almost 30% of these are made on foot or by bike, 44% by car and 27% by public transport. In Helsinki energy use per capita for transportation is double that of the average European city. Reasons for this include low density suburban living patterns and, at a time when the region is becoming less reliant on its traditional centre for the provision of employment, a centric public transport system that is weak in transverse directions. That said, the system is clean and efficient and has an international reputation for such. At a wider scale, the city’s remote position on the edge of Europe makes air traffic and shipping important for international trade and tourism.

Road Network

Since the mid 1960s the population of the metropolitan area has increased by 50% whilst car ownership has quadrupled. At the end of 2001 there 335 cars for every 1,000 inhabitants, with 200,000 private cars registered in the inner city.

Road traffic into the Helsinki is served by 9 radial arteries and 3 ring roads. Ring I is 7-9 kilometres from the city centre and Ring III 13-15 kilometres. An average of 6.3 million vehicle kilometres a day were driven on the streets of Helsinki in 1990, rising to 7.1 million kilometres in 2000. A growth in transverse traffic in the suburbs has led to a fourfold increase in traffic on Ring I since the early 1980s. A motorway network has been constructed in recent decades, linking Helsinki to Lahti and Tampere. Another stretch is under construction which when complete will link Turku-Helsinki-St Petersburg.

Traffic in the city centre is relatively balanced throughout the day, whereas the suburbs see marked rush hour peaks with a significant amount of associated congestion, particularly in the morning. Since the mid 1990s average speeds have fallen on the majority of routes in the metropolitan area and traffic flow has deteriorated. Congestion increases emissions from vehicles and increases fuel usage by up to 60%.

Parking in the inner city is fee based on almost every street. Street parking is reserved for three user groups with the following priority: service and delivery traffic; residents; and people transacting business, shoppers and visitors to the city. In 2002 there were 16,400 street parking spaces available to these groups. Park and ride facilities have been built to reduce congestion and parking requirements in the city centre. Most of these are located at train and metro stations and are provided free of charge. In 2002 there were 3,000 park and ride spaces in use.

Traffic emissions are a major factor affecting local air quality, with cars accounting for 90% of carbon dioxide and around 50% of nitrous oxide emissions. Diesel powered goods traffic is a major problem in terms of emissions and air quality. They are thought to account for 40% of nitrous oxide and over half of particulate emissions in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area. In addition to emissions, noise pollution from traffic is becoming an increasing environmental problem across the metropolitan area.

The city centre’s speed limits were lowered in 2004 in an attempt to improve the area’s poor road safety record. The speed limit on most of the city centre’s streets is now 30 km/h; on the larger thoroughfares, main and collector streets, the speed limit is 40 km/h. Outside the city centre the speed limit for main and collector streets is typically 50 km/h; at access streets 40 km/h and in housing areas 30 km/h.

By 2010 the number of cars in Greater Helsinki will exceed 430,000 and traffic flows are expected to be 20% above their current level. The present road network will not be able to accommodate this increase without the prospect of worsening congestion. Helsinki will become more reliant on a well planned, high quality public transport system.

Public Transport

The Helsinki region has pursued a policy favouring public transport since the 1970s, when work began on the systematic development of the network. Low ticket prices and an expanding rail and metro network, together with tighter inner city parking controls, have resulted in growing popularity of public transport. The annual cost of running the system in the metropolitan area is around €100 million per annum with fares totalling €67 million, the difference subsidized by municipal contributions. 221 million journeys a year are made by public transport, accounting for 70% of rush hour traffic to and from the city centre.

The system is managed by Helsinki City Transport (HKL) for the lines that remain in Helsinki and by Helsinki Metropolitan Area Council (YTV) for the routes that run out into the municipalities. The system consists of trams, light commuter rail, the metro, local and regional bus lines and a number of ferry services. 500 buses, 90 trams and 45 metro trains serve the public transport needs of the city, with an extensive network of bus and tram lanes in the city centre. Around two-thirds of passengers use the system as their primary means of transport.

Bus routes in the city are drawn up and timetabled by HKL and operated by independent companies. Most routes are radial, entering the city centre from various directions, with transverse routes connecting local centres outside of the inner centre. Most services have their city centre termini near to the Central Railway Station. 340,000 bus journeys are made on an average weekday along 3,200 kilometres of bus routes. Many services operate as feeder lines for the metro and commuter rail systems. Passenger numbers have been slightly decreasing for a number of years, at least partly due to the expansion of the rail network. In the suburbs bus services to the city centre generally operate at 10 minute intervals during peak hours and 20 minutes off-peak and they travel through the city at an average of 26 km/h.

Regional bus lines are managed by YTV in a similar fashion to the city centre routes run by HKL. They have been designed to move people between important points in the metropolitan area and linking those points back to the city centre. Regional services terminate at the new underground Central Bus Station in the Kamppi Centre, a short walk from the Central Railway Station.

Helsinki's tram system provides transport in the city centre and neighbourhoods close to it. It opened in 1891 and is one of the oldest in the world. Today, the network comprises 11 lines and 83 kilometres of tramway. It is operated by HKL with 200,000 tram journeys being made on an average weekday. In 2006 construction started on a new line connecting Kirurgi to Ita-Pasila via Vallila.

The metro opened in 1982, originally as a single straight line, with a fork added in 1998. Today there are 17 stations and 21 kilometres of track, with trains running every 4 to 5 minutes. The metro is very important for commuters in the growing suburbs of eastern Helsinki. 190,000 metro journeys are made on an average weekday and passenger numbers have been steadily increasing since 1991. The metro is managed and operated by HKL. It is interesting to note that when the system was planned in 1963 it was to have a total length of 86 kilometres and 108 stations. This was rejected on the basis that it was too expensive.

The commuter train system is the public transport backbone for the suburbs to the north of the city centre, where it branches out in three directions. It is managed by YTV and operated by VR, the Finnish national rail company. There are 15 train stations in Helsinki, the largest of which are the Central Railway Station and Pasila, and some 54 stations in the wider metropolitan area. Commuters are increasingly using the rail network to access the city centre, with a 50% increase in the passenger numbers since the early 1980s. In recent years the system has expanded, a line to Tikkurila in the north opened in 1995 and another to Leppavaara in the west in 2002. The Tikkurila line has recently extended to Kerava, 30 kilometres north of the city centre and a new line to Lahti opened in September 2006.

Three ferries, operated by HKL, link the island of Suomenlinna to the mainland, with 5,000 passengers using the service on the average weekday.

Helsinki’s public transport system increasingly runs with environmentally sound vehicles, technology and fuels. Vehicles account for 20% of total carbon dioxide emissions in Greater Helsinki. Of this, busses account for 8% and trams for 2%. An increasing number of HKL’s busses run off natural gas, cutting particulate emissions by around 85%. There are a total of 10km of lawned tramlines in Helsinki, which helps to abate noise, capture street dust and enhance the urban landscape. To mark car free day every autumn HKL offers travellers the chance to travel all day for the cost of a single ticket. In 2002, this resulted in a 5% increase in people using the metro and as much as a 20% increase on the trams and busses.

In 1994 the city council set a target to double the amount of cycling in Helsinki. There is now an extensive network of cycle routes covering over 1000 kilometres, with an additional 20 and 25 kilometres of new routes being built each year. There are 27 home district routes whose lengths vary from 12 to 25 kilometres. Adverse weather conditions mean that the main cycling season is from April to October. CityBikes was launched in 2000. 380 bikes can be borrowed from 26 stands around the city centre. A number of offices and departments within the city use more than 600 company bikes for business related purposes.

The city centre now accounts for 40% of jobs within the region. The increase in employment in the metropolitan centres has resulted in an increase in journeys that do not pass through the city centre i.e. from one metropolitan centre to another. The existing public transport system predominantly serves routes into the city centre, where it accounts 70% of rush hour journies. On transverse routes this figure is less than 20% and there has been a significant rise in road traffic in these directions. Any future public transport strategy needs to take into account such land use and movement patterns.

International Transport Links

Helsinki is Finland’s largest port, covering 217 hectares and 8.6 kilometres of quays. Most goods come into and out of the city by sea. The Port of Helsinki handles more than 10 million tons of cargo, 460,000 containers and 380,000 lorries each year. The development of Vuosaari Harbour will take over all goods traffic passing through the port when it opens in 2008. Most years the Gulf of Finland freezes, making icebreakers necessary to maintain shipping lanes.

There are regular ferry services to Tallinn , Stockholm and Tavemunde in Germany, as well as a limited service to St Petersburg. Services operate from Helsinki’s two harbours: the South Harbour and the West Harbour. During the winter around 80 passenger ships leave the port each week, more in the summer months. Passenger numbers have increased from 1.3 million per annum in the early 1980s to almost 10 million today, with more than 3 million a year using the ferry service to Sweden. Following Estonia’s independence, there has been a large increase in passenger numbers between Tallinn and Helsinki. Today more than 6 million passengers a year make the crossing.

The main international airport at Helsinki-Vantaa, 19km north of the city centre, handles 10 million passengers a year, the number having more than trebled since the early 1980s. Domestic flights are important in a country the size of Finland accounting for 30% of passengers passing through the airport. A third runway was completed in 2002 to cope with increased demand. Connection from the airport to the city centre is by regional bus which takes around 40 minutes, although a train link, Keherata, is planned. The airport provides around 10,000 jobs.

Helsinki’s second airport is at Malmi, 10 kilometres north-east of the city centre. It was opened in 1936 and was the city’s main airport until scheduled flights were transferred to Helsinki-Vantaa in 1953. For some time there have been plans to close the airport and redevelop the site a residential district. However, this has proved contentious and its future remains uncertain.

Finland and Russia use the same railway gauge. The rail link from Helsinki to St Petersburg extends on to Asia Minor, China and the Pacific Coast.

With increased car usage, the modal share of public transport has been declining since the 1950s. An expanding population will mean the total number of journies will increase. If further road congestion and vehicle emmissions are to be avoided there needs to be an increase in the proportion of journies made by public transport and/or the length of journies needs to be reduced. At the same time areas of new development need to be fully integrated with a high quality public transport infrastructure that matches the movement patterns of its inhabitants.

Transport - Additional Information and Links

Helsinki has a good basic transport system, with a well laid out road, bus, tram and metro system but with some structural weaknesses that have emerged in the last years of expansion and increased car use. The key transverse or cross city links are weak and emerging centres such as Leppavara are not so well served at the moment, and thus form bottlenecks to traffic flow. The Airport is currently only linked to Helsinki by road, so a Car or Bus journey is necessary, but underground metro line is planned. The metro is also planned to expand West into Espoo, linking some of Espoos' suburban centres to the centre of Helsinki. The centre of Helsinki has a relatively large network of underground facilities (see map) but which are not really coordinated either with themselves or with transport nodes. This is something that could be explored and expanded upon in the future.
The recent rise of large American style shopping malls in the outlying centres has probably increased transverse congestion and pressure on the public transport system in recent years. The transport system in the centre of Helsinki is excellent and coordinated, however the outlying systems tend to function as feeders for the city centre, with little alternatives to a car ride. A key strategic decision to build an tunnel link for the motorway under the centre of Helsinki itself. Also important is the move of the Helsinki port away from the centre freeing up space for planned urban development and altering further the transport requirements of the area.

Tuesday, 23 January 2007

Introduction - Process

The nature of the project makes its scope wide and far-reaching. To keep the body of work created through its course focussed on a submission in May, a rough process and indicative timetable have been prepared based on experience in similar projects. This is in no way intended to constrain ideas and individual creative processses; it exists simply as a guide and is designed to be iterative i.e. one piece of work informs the next in an expanding web of ideas and a body of creative work.

The process is conducted through blogs and other internet based media, used as communication tools between various team members and the wider public. This is in keeping with Helsinki's position as a leading international centre of ICT.

The process has begun with the identification of a number of broad themes that will affect the future of the Helsinki region in the coming decades. At present these are: Urban Structure, Housing, Transport, Business & the Economy, Education & Training, Architecture, Local Politics, Healthcare, Tourism, Leisure & Recreation, Culture, Society, and Sustainability.

Introductory narratives are being prepared for each of these themes which will be posted as individual blogs in the near future. The purpose of these narratives is to provide a background to the multi-faceted elements that constitute the urban environment and to act as a trigger for ideas and work that develop during the course of the project. Initially they will be posted in draft form for comment from other team members and the wider public.

Following a SWOT analysis, founded on the individual themed narratives and subsequent comments, a set of issues that are felt to constrain the future development of the region are to be prepared. Once these issues have been identified, the next step will be to establish a series of objectives that address them individually. These objectives will start to define the vision for Helsinki in 2050 with a draft vision statement to be posted at the end of February.

This leaves two months: March and April, to develop project ideas that realise the draft vision for the city together with and in parallel to the detailed study that is part of the competition brief.
Germs of ideas are likely to be generated earlier in the project but it is here that they will be expanded upon and tested against the objectives set during the previous stage. A team visit to Helsinki is planned for the middle to end of March. Conversations between various emerging projects will add depth to the draft vision and a second, final version of the vision statement is to be posted at the end of April. Work on the final competition submission is to have commenced by the beginning of April and is to be graphically specific to the wider objectives of the Team Helsinki submission.

Through the course of the programme a body of creative work, responding to/exploring elements of research and other work, will inform later stages of the project. This may include a number of precedent studies e.g. vernacular/contemporary housing in Helsinki, the densification of historic European metropolitan areas.

Friday, 19 January 2007

Introduction - History of Helsinki (First Draft)

Helsinki was founded by the King Gustav Vasa in 1550 as the Swedish town of Helsingfors at the mouth of the River Vantaa. It was established as a trading post to rival the Hansaetic League city of Reval (modern day Tallinn), which at the time dominated trade in the area. At its inception, the residents of several other towns were resettled in Helsingfors by royal decree to ensure its economic viability. After Sweden acquired Reval at the end of the Livonian War in 1582 there was little reason for the Swedish crown to develop Helsingfors as a centre of trade and it remained a small forgotten town for several decades.

In 1643 the town was relocated further south to the Vironniemi headland in an attempt to attract more trade to the city. After Helsingfors was temporarily occupied by Russian forces twice in the first half of the eighteenth century, the Swedish army constructed the sea-fortress of Suomenlinna to protect the city from further attacks. The institutional structure of Finland, including judicial, religious and local government authorities, was largely established during the period of Swedish rule.

Helsingfors began to expand when Finland was annexed by Russia as the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland in 1809, following the Finnish War. To help reduce the Swedish influence, Tsar Alexander I of Russia had the capital moved from its location at Åbo to Helsingfors in 1812. The Russian tsar commissioned the architects Johan Albrecht Ehrenstrom, a native Finn, and Carl Ludvig Engel, a German, to redesign the city in the Empire style as a modern city along the lines of the Russian capital St. Petersburg.

During the 19th Century, Helsingfors became the economic and cultural centre of Finland. The Finnish language began to dominate the city, as the people who moved to the city were mostly Finnish-speaking. At the beginning of the 20th Century most of the city’s residents spoke Finnish, although a large number of Swedish-speakers remained. The central government structure was, by and large, established during the Russian period, as Finland enjoyed a large degree of autonomy in its domestic policies.

Following independence from Russia in 1917 a civil war broke out and Helsinki fell to the Red Guards along with rest of southern Finland. German troops recaptured Helsinki but the city itself suffered little damage. During the Winter War (1939-1940) and the Continuation War (1941-1944) Soviet bombers attacked the city but again damage was relatively light.

From the 1950s onwards the growth of services industries, together with an increase in industrial employment, led to an extensive population shift from the countryside to Helsinki and the other growing urban centres of southern Finland in what became known as the Great Migration. The city has continued to grow with two suburbs, Espoo (established in 1963) and Vantaa (dating from 1972), today being the country's fourth and fifth largest cities.

Thursday, 18 January 2007

Introduction - team helsinki

This blog has been established as a communication tool for team helsinki, an international, interdisciplinary group taking part in the ideas competition, Greater Helsinki Vision 2050.

This competition has been organised to investigate the future of the Greater Helsinki region in light of a changing national and international context. Some of the questions that we are looking to address include:

  • What kind of places respond actively and wisely to global and seasonal climatic change?
  • What kind of places put a minimal strain on our eco-system?
  • How do we create sufficient wealth to realise our future needs and dreams?
  • What kind of enterprises will sustain us in the future?
  • What kind of places do we wish to be in which nourish us both physically and mentally?
  • What kind of places offer both creative tension, spontaneity and contact as well as a feeling of safety and well-being?
  • What kind of places offer a concrete vision of humanism and tolerance, of justice and equality, of untapped potential and future possibilities?
  • What kind of places offer every child a hint of what they might be or do?
The deadline for competition submissions is in May 2007. A certain amount of background research has already been carried out, which will be posted to the blog in the near future. Information has been collected and organised under a number of broad themes including urban structure, housing, education, the economy, culture, society etc. It is intended to act as a starting point for a body of ideas and creative work that will help establish a set of issues and objectives, forming a clear basis for a vision for Helsinki in the year 2050. A team visit to Helsinki is being planned for March 2007.

The team, currently being put together, is made up of creative people from a range of backgrounds/disciplines/nationalities and is expected to expand through the course of the project to encompass a wider range of expertise and local knowledge. If you are interested in contributing please contact me with a brief personal background.