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Helsinki is the only city in Finland that has rail based public transport. To be precise, also the neighbour cities are served with rail transport with the commuter trains, but the only tram and metro systems in Finland are in Helsinki.
Tram network is the original public transport system in Helsinki. Today it serves only the city centre and the nearest areas that are practically a continuity of the city centre. All the expansion of the city since 1950's is outside the tram network.
New low floor trams were delivered to Helsinki from 1999. Some minor extensions of tram lines has been built for few new areas, but the Helsinki authorities consider trams as slow street tram system not capable for suburban service. Still tram is faster than the metro to travel at the main street Hämeentie, where tram is parallel with the metro. This is because of the reserved tram lanes and partial tram priority in traffic lights. And because of the deep metro stations and long walking times, even though the metro trains are naturally fast.
Commuter trains connect suburbs and neighbour cities to Helsinki. They have own rails for the nearest distances from Helsinki, where the service frequency is high. Pure feeder bus service was planned for trains, but for public resistance part of the straight bus services has remained.
Most of the Helsinki suburbs and those parts in neighbour cities that are not served by rail are served with the bus lines straight to the city centre. All the lines end to one of the three bus terminals in the city centre. The westerns terminal, Kamppi, converted to an underground terminal 2005 when a new shopping mall was built.
Helsinki metro is the latest implementation. The service started 1982 and the line was gradually extended to it's recent state with two braches in east.
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Like many cities in Europe during 1960's, Helsinki believed to the practically endless growth. The estimate for year 2000 was 2 million inhbitants in only Helsinki. In 2000 the whole Helsinki metropolitan area (Helsinki, Espoo, Kauniainen and Vantaa) was slightly over one million.
The optimistic estimate was the background of the metro decision – besides the dreams of the train manufacturer Valmet to gain the world markets of metro trains. When these estimates never realized, the load planned for the metro never appeared.
The problem with the Helsinki metro is both in it's size and the old fashion structure with third rail current supply. These prevent the track to cross any streets in plane and to fit the track line to the city structure. The eastern suburbs were originally planned to have metro stations in the middle as in the green line in Stockholm, Sweden. But the metro engineers only stated, that it is impossible and the line will be built aside the main roads.
The land use efficiency in Helsinki area is relatively low. Houses are usually 5 to 8 floor high, and the density in suburbs is so low, that there is not enough inhabitants in walking distance from a metro station. With the recent track building standard, metro track is too expensive to build to cover all the built area and to fit to the population density. To collect high enough passenger flows to the metro, a strong feeder bus system is required. To build a line long enough to collect passengers is both too expensive and exceeds the Helsinki city borders.
The mistake of Helsinki metro is it's unflexibilty. It was designed to be able to carry the maximum possible passenger flow. But what was required was to be able to carry less passengers than estimated.
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The modal split share of cars is relatively low in the city centre, 30 % of motorized transport. But at the whole Helsinki area it is near vice versa, 60 % for cars. One reason for this is that the public transport has not answered to the growth of the region. Traffic has increased at the orbital directions, where new and heavy loaded main roads has been built. But public transport connections lead to the city centre.
After the metro decision 1969 Helsinki reserved own lanes for the trams and buses in the main streets in the city centre. But no real pedestrian area has been created. ”Car party” in Helsinki is strong and the possibility to drive through the heart of the city has been kept. Main traffic flow fills the only park Esplanaadi in the shopping area in the city centre. The number of cars in the city centre has remained the same since 1980's – as the capacity of the streets became filled already then.
Nowdays, when cities usually want to limit parking and car use in city centres, Helsinki plans opposite. Number of parking places will grow by app. 25 % with new underground parking sites and by reorganizing street parking. A huge city tunnel plan to increase number of car trips through the city with 25.000 trips per day is going strong. Still no real car free zone in the city will be arranged.
Helsinki region has the same problem as many othe cities in Europe: urban sprawl. Both the industry, shopping and living are looking for less expensive land and space to grow. The competition between the independent cities and municipalities around Helsinki is the power for this development. As there is no real central planning for land use, the only solution for traffic is road traffic.
Unfortunately it seems to be that the attitude of the planners is also for car. It is easy to not to care about traffic, as roads has to be built anyway. The main roads and motorways are not the part of the planning of a single suburb, so road capacity is not the problem of the planner. Only problem is to reserve parking space for the cars with houses.
Most of the planners are not familiar with the modern public transport solutions. They know only the too expensive metro, which is allways too expensive for any project. And anyway, the only line is never even near, so no need to care about it.
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At the moment Helsinki has 555,000 inhabitants and population density is 3020 pers./sqkm. Helsinki city urban area has 1.2 million inhabitants with population density of 405 pers./sqkm. Urban area includes plenty of forest, so the population density at the built areas varies from 1000 to 1700 pers./sqkm.
The 120 units tram fleet carries daily 193,000 passengers. 108 metro coaches carry 182,000 and 167 commuter trains 88,000 passengers. So the trams are the most important public rail transport system even though the network covers only the city centre area of Helsinki.
Page is created at 9.10.2007 / AA