Hanna Kivimäki: Cycling should be made accessible to all

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Hanna Kivimäki, candidate for SDP in Helsinki, blogs about the municipal elections.

Pedalling makes life feel a little easier and who wouldn’t like a gentle breeze on their way to work or back home? Although the coronavirus pandemic has drastically reduced commuter cycling and made mornings slower, the city bike season that is about to begin is likely to encourage people to take bike trips to local natural areas and forests. Municipalities can support the wellbeing and outdoor recreation of local residents by providing them with, e.g. accessible sports services, safe and well-lit fitness trails and well-maintained beaches.

One of the easiest ways to encourage municipal residents to exercise is to facilitate cycling. An extensive city bike network, high-quality cycling routes, the opportunity for year-round cycling and ensuring the safety of cycling are concrete measures a municipality can take to promote the mobility of its residents.

In recent years, the city bike season has been the same as the summer season, but in my opinion, efforts should be made to make city bikes available all year round. This, on the other hand, requires changes in ploughing priorities and street heating. In Finland, the costs of accidents caused by slipping on foot or bike are five times higher than the cost of street maintenance. Prioritising the ploughing of pedestrian and bicycle routes makes peoples’ lives easier and walking and cycling in the city safer.

Years ago, American YouTube personality Casey Neistat made a popular video on obstructions on bike lanes in New York, and Helsinki has the same problem. According to the 2020 cyclist barometer survey of the City of Helsinki, over half of those using a bike at least once a week is dissatisfied with the special arrangements caused by construction sites. Construction sites and road construction are, of course, part of urban development, but it should, however, be self-evident that when changes are made to the streetscape, special attention must be paid to the placement of pedestrian and cycling routes. The closer the city centre, the higher the threshold for cycling. Since the cycling routes in the centre of Helsinki are rather confusing and cyclists have to pedal among pedestrians and try their best to avoid cars, it’s no wonder that cycling in Helsinki is considered distressing.

One way to provide pedestrians and cyclists with better opportunities to move around in the city is to introduce more central pedestrian zones via urban planning. The discussions on the expansion of the central pedestrian zone in Helsinki have only begun, but I see it as something that significantly increases the city’s appeal while making it safer. Facilitating pedestrian traffic does not only have beneficial health effects but it also supports the transition towards becoming a carbon-neutral welfare state.

The Programme for the promotion of walking and cycling prepared by the Finnish Government aims to increase the amount of travel by foot or bicycle by 30% by the year 2030. This is a valid objective, as increasing the physical activity of citizens brings clear public health benefits. In order to achieve this goal, municipalities must invest in improving the conditions for cycling in the above-mentioned ways.

Hanna Kivimäki

The author is a Helsinki-based SDP candidate for the municipal elections who studies Cultural Management at the Metropolia University of Applied Sciences. In municipal policy, safety, equality and mental health are one of the most important themes for Hanna.

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