Project Activities > The Second Study Visit of Russian Experts, Oulu (Finland), February 27 – March 2, 2017 > Study Visit of Russian Experts to Oulu (Finland). Anastasia Nerovnaya’s Review

{Study Visit of Russian Experts to Oulu (Finland). Anastasia Nerovnaya’s Review}

Author: Anastasia Nerovnaya, Leader of VELOVE Cycling Movement

Study visit to Oulu, Winter Cycling Capital of the World made it possible to explore the city’s bicycle infrastructure and determine a number of features/points of success and sustainable development of Oulu:

1. Bike and Pedestrian Infrastructure

In Oulu, Winter Cycling Capital of the World you can ride a bicycle 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. What’s the catch? In 1960s one officer of transportation unit wanted to develop the cycling infrastructure in the city, despite the golden age of motor transport in those days.

As a result: over 860 km of bike paths on the territory of 3100 m2 for population of 300 thousand people.

Initially Oulu was building shared use bike paths with a width of 3.5-6 meters. Due to the large number of cyclists this infrastructure solution showed its inefficiency: pedestrians felt uncomfortable and scary, and cyclists couldn’t speed up properly. It looks like if we expand all the sidewalks to 4-6 meters and call it shared use bike paths in the Russian city – not so much will change towards rideability. Now the Oulu City Hall is gradually rebuilding infrastructure, dividing bike and pedestrian routes – partly through lawns and automobile part of the road. Besides, Oulu is working towards passing intersections safer and more comfortable.

Most of bike paths separated from the road: one goes straight on the Baltic Sea ice to the Airport (also used for skating and skiing). There are hugely more bike and pedestrian bridges than automobile ones! The transportation system often uses underpasses as a junction with motor road, so cyclists don’t have to stop at intersections. Everything is designed to minimize the forced stops on the route. All bike paths are connected in a single network and not interrupted.

The city center is for cyclists and pedestrians. There is a large parking for cars with 900 places underground. The city center has low motor traffic, and all motorists drive at a speed 30 km/h and always give way to cyclists. If there are no cars at pedestrian crossings, cyclists don’t have to dismount and not being fined.

There are no through streets for cars in residential neighborhoods – they are torn off by a 30 meter bike path (it simply prohibits motorists to drive through, while they can get into the yard), and the movement speed is limited to 10-20 km/h. As a result, there are a few cars in residential neighborhoods, which make cycling convenient and safe.

It can be another solution: quiet/slow streets transform into bike and pedestrian streets, but at the same time they can be used by motorists to drive at a speed of up to 20 km/h to get home. In such streets cyclists and pedestrians are given priority over motorists. There also can be pedestrian routes, where cyclists need to dismount, and vice versa – bike streets, where cyclists are given priority over other road users.

Bike parking facilities are everywhere, but not all of them are usable. In Finland it is common to use wheel lock, blocking the rear wheel: if bike has a step, it can be left anywhere without bike parking! Although bicycles are often stolen. Therefore it is better to play safe and use a frame lock. By the way, there are specially designed bike parking facilities with a chain lock that passes through the frame/both wheels (it it’s long enough) and attaches bicycle to the bike rack.

The cycling infrastructure also includes sheltered bike parking near the houses and bike parking around the schools and public places.

Despite such experience and developed cycling infrastructure, bike activists and the transportation unit constantly have to prove the cycling infrastructure development importance, to struggle for every new meter of a bike path, for careful maintenance, for convenient bike parking, for simple transportation rules, etc.

2. Bike Path Maintenance

The technology of bike path maintenance in winter is rather interesting and simple: they ram snow and remove excess, using a wavy bucket nozzle to make the road surface non slip. This surface allows driving even on summer tires. During thaw period, they remove melted snow and throw gravel or sometimes sand. They don’t use salt at all because of harmful effects on the road surface, shoes and the bike itself. In Oulu they use special machinery for bike path maintenance with a bucket width of 2.5-3 m and 1.8 m.

All bike and pedestrian routes are divided into three classes by priority. Cleaning starts with the first class, then the second and third. The same system is used for the motorways. The "Snow Police" in Oulu works 24 hours 7 days a week. As soon as the employee of urban areas cleaning company understands, that the snow fall more 3 cm high (1 class) and 6 cm high (2 class), he presses the emergency call button – and the employees respond to clean up urban streets. The whole city is divided into 13 areas, and one maintenance company is responsible for one area. If the company cleans poorly – it is fined. Citizens can give feedback on the cleaning’s quality on the website. Dozens of employees in 13 maintenance companies of Oulu always monitor, so that citizens can move comfortably around the city on different modes of transport.

3. Events

Over 70% of the population rides a bicycle in summer and about 30% in winter. Non-profit organizations, supported by the Administration, promote bicycle as a mode of transport through various thematic events and actions, attracting more and more people to ride a bicycle year-round. Finland has even a national team game - KILOMETRIKISA. You team up with 3-4-5 people or participate from the organization (business, university, etc.). The goal is to ride together as many kilometers as possible. The result is general: an average number of kilometers per team and all data on intermediate results are displayed on the website. The game holds in two stages – winter and summer. Oulu has launched an interesting action in order to increase the number of cyclists in winter: everyone who promises to ride bicycle every day, is given out lanterns, a set of winter tires and helmets (according to the survey, women are afraid to slip and fall). Participants ride a bicycle for three months and report on their results on the website. After holding action in 2016, the survey showed, that most of participants are ready to ride next winter at least as much as this.

4. SMART City System and Green Wave System for Emergency Vehicles

Cities of Finland are connected to the SMART city system - all intersections are equipped with motion sensors, radars, traffic lights, which allow adjusting traffic signals through a program and providing convenient movement around the city.

Oulu has already installed the Green Wave system for emergency vehicles. The system allows the emergency vehicle (ambulance, fire, and police) to arrive at the place without stopping along the way. The driver needs only to turn on the flashing light. Motion sensors, radars, and cameras react to vehicle’s signals and clear the way in advance, activating green wave at the traffic lights.

5. Interesting Facts

* Four out of five citizens regularly ride a bicycle.

* In Oulu, bicycle is twice as popular as the average for Finland.

* Myths about the rules in Finland: the helmet is recommended, but not required! Winter tires and other driving conditions in winter are also contrived. You can ride a bicycle in the same way, as in summer, because everything necessary is provided.

* The recycling center repairs and restores bicycles. Here you can buy any spare parts and pre-owned bicycle for 20 €.

* The bike stations. We attended one, but all bike tools were stolen there, except the pump. The bike station design is interesting enough, because bike tools are located inside the box, which protects them from the rain. The pump is foot-operated and combined with the stand itself.

* An amazing variety of bicycles. We saw cargo bikes, stroller bikes, promo bikes, tricycles…in fact, for any taste and need! There are also a lot of “beat up” old bicycles. This is hardly surprising, because in Oulu it’s been a long time since bicycle became a mode of transport!

The study visit was attended by 8 experts from St. Petersburg and the Republic of Karelia.

All the experience gained will be taken into account when developing a cycling infrastructure in Petrozavodsk and St. Petersburg.