Biking in Practice. Ideas and acts to promote walking and cycling


Aalto University Summer School on Transportation has defined itself as an establishment which offers a creative and practical approach to understanding and solving current traffic problems in both developed and developing countries. The Summer School is organized by the School of Engineering Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Last theme was Embracing the Complexity of Mobility 15.-19.8.2016. The focus of the Summer School was complexity which is embedded in all modern traffic from behavior to technological interdependence. The theme Biking in Practice was for the first time included in the Summer School program in its social thematic groups. Biking too includes features from human behavior to technological interdependence. Biking is physically simple movement. But biking is the complex traffic mode. It is the demanding part of urban planning. The purpose of my presentation was to indicate that


Thinking cyclists at the Wanhat Welot conferens in Tampere 2012.
Photo Mauri Myllylä

Philosophy of cycling

Wisdom and intelligence are used in the discussion regarding movement and traffic. These concepts refer to systems that apply communication technologies. Word intelligence has been limited to car traffic. But walking and cycling are strongly justified as wise forms of mobility.

Driving on a city motorway makes my thinking impossible. I am able to say anything until the end of the ramp. Choices of wise modes create smoother traffic, benefit economy, environment, health and the society as a whole.

”I am most fond of Albert Einstein’s words: Life is like riding a bicycle; to keep your balance, you must keep moving. It is important to be present in this moment.” Turo Vuorenpuro. He goes further: ”Standing still is also a way of moving. It demands the subtle movement of hundreds of muscles in relation to each others. You are able to notice how world around is constantly changing.”

I have nowadays time to move and stop. During my working years I remember saying that cycling is a better tool for social interaction than walking the dog and that the bike is better planning tool than a computer.

Thoughts of Finnish Government

Our President has paid attention to the controversial speech. At the same time when expenditure cuts are demanded, hope is also placed on increasing consumption to support growth. In Finland has been started to pay ”the debt of repairing” of our road system by 1 billion euro. Politicians and car drivers are satisfied. Comfort food is the good word and idea also for them.

The most famous finnish philosophy academic Georg Henrik von Wright turned 100 years 2016. He wrote: ”In the future, private cars turn into a genuine plight of the human race and obstacle to mobility in the modern, rapidly urbanizing society. It will eventually lead into trouble, it should be curbed to match the human scale, but this is a task responsible administrations are unable to do.”

The target of economic growth and increase in traffic move hand in hand. Finns have had a solid idea of what is fair and just. Now we have seen the rise of selfishness and greed. Fairness is needed in reacting to our fellow commuters as to walkers and bikers. The President has encouraged everyone and every generation to do something to create more wellbeing.

In my home town the initiative to better cycling infrastructure came from Automotive and Transport Workers Union who were concerned about their own needs on the heavily loaded Merikoski Bridges. Selfinterest is difficult to control, if we do not take others into account.

Finnish transport policy

The main issues are economic. To which modes and in which areas will funding be allocated? Do we put price tag on the use of transport system? Is the promotion of walking and cycling only the sentence as previously? I have been able to act within the framework of opportunities the unwritten state policy has provided.

The first finnish transport policy in 2012 describes plans for development in all transport modes until 2016. The promotion of cycling remains to municipalities.  The transport policy is intended to control pork barrel politics. The public sector aims to no longer increase debt. But transport investments for 2016-2020 are sort of comfort food. Road repair debt is reduced by increasing state and municipal debt.

According to the new way of thinking, we should, prior to a new investment, examine whether controlling land use reduce the volume of traffic by offering  other forms of transport for example cycling or by using the old infrastructure and smaller infrastructure development initiatives.

Increasing and increased traffic volumes are main basis for investments in calculations of benefits and costs. Promoting walking and cycling would require mitigation of car traffic. Other planned economical tools of the Finnish policy can be: Tax and fee policies and information to promote sustainable modes. Undesirable incentives are gotten rid of. Renewal of taxation is made with the aim of promotion public transport, walking and cycling on work trips.

Road and city are one

Traffic is increasing in the vicinity of large cities. The important reason for growth is the expansion of commuting areas. The length of work trips has doubled in the last 25 years. Average distance from home to work is 15 kilometers.

A road system is able the divergence of urban structure. Increasing the capacity of our road system does not bring any sustainable benefit. Our access to services will not improve even though mobility will. The great offering of road planning is crystallized in the analysis of societal financial efficiency. The cost-benefit analysis is vital and the velocity of vehicles is in defining position. Municipalities support this thinking wishing state funds to own area. ”A potential tax payer is more important than worries about advancement of walking and biking or climate change.”  The mayor of Oulu.  Developing of cycling is an ungrateful job.


Do we need tacit knowledge?

I started my job as the traffic engineer 1961. It was still the golden age of cyclists. Some responsible authorities are longing for this age. Reason for choosing retired traffic designer for coordinator of the Ministry’s Jaloin (by foot) project 2002 and for to give this lecture was may be the idea that he can help in advancing cycling. May be it was disappointment. We believe in the strength of examples. If somebody is biking it refers to he does not own driver’s license. He loses his confidence.

The aim was to influence the municipalities by means of examples and transport policy programs. The most important project was Ministry’s own initiative of defining its policy to promote walking and cycling. The first pedestrian and bike traffic guidelines were completed in 2013, a full 15 years after my retirement as the responsible for transport planning in the city of Oulu. Happily, the mysterious tacit knowledge is constantly in our midst and doing its own work.

Experience does not always provide the skills to improve activities. But tacit knowledge of the urban planning including traffic planning should not be the first thing to be thrown out.  In the tendering processes experience was measured on reports I had written over the previous three years. The traffic mentor got bad starting score for a project closely resembled his whole 50-year long work career.

Attend to children’s knowledge!

Tacit knowledge can also be looked for in youth and in processes of trial and error. Some thoughts of Elina Viljamaa’s thesis defence at the University of Oulu in 2012: Narration is an important part of child’s story. It consists experiences, feelings and imagination. Awareness of oneself grow as a child explains it. Nobody else can do that.

The opponent Pauline von Bonsdorff is Professor in Environmental Aestetics  in Jyväskylä University. She said: ”My viewpoint differs from that of traffic designers.  But aestheticians and traffic planners can through discussions approach each other.” Could urban planning elevate its working to a narrative knowledge?

Signs of a good city

The Professor of Urban Planning Helka-Liisa Hentilä from the Oulu University told in Kaleva newspaper 11.7.2016 which are characteristics of a good cycling environment:

1.The place has a historical perspective  2. The nature is present  3. The wider view is there possible  4. The buildings varies uniformly  5. The maintenance is well arranged


Velo City conferens in Paris 2002
Photo Mauri Myllylä

I was able to show pictures which were consisting following ideas or information: Cycling facilities has been built as an imago factor. The road for bikers is crossing the fishroad as an example. Environment  has been prepared as an attraction factor. All modes of transportation have been taken into account. Year-round cycling is possible. Elegant streets can be seen as a characteristics for the whole area. ”Boulevardisation”? The traffic system is well maintained including residential areas and cycling connections. The downtown area is built as a symbol of for the city. It is the place for social interaction of leaders and inhabitants

Creating possibilities for walking and cycling. Who can do that?

The public sector: The municipal contribution is emphasized. The state is a latercomer. The municipal council. Its power has been delegated to city government and to boards. The traffic planning bureau can utilize elected power in promotion whatever it has seen fit. Import of knowhow. The foreigner cities have set good examples to my work.

Key persons, who have good positions to promote impact the decision-making process. Most influential people are those drafting and presenting the plans and proposals.  Who else could make sure that there are annual budget allocations for pedestrian and cycling facilities.

According to principle of inclusion citizens have to be able to receive information and to have a say. Walking and cycling projects are trustworthy with the influence of the residents. Lobbying is passing of the official order of things.

Importance of key person

Key person is the expert, caring and concerning.  Key person represents transport policy, is cooperating with planners and architects, is securing the continuity of the city structure, takes care of one’s own task in engineering –oriented implementation, likes businessman,  is creative and the risk taker aiming results and  transfers trust. But personal responsibility is not to be bought. In practice we have found that both the success and the failure used to be personalized.

Emergence of my own view

A view is a strong internal power that cannot be pushed aside. I have heard the questions, which factors have influenced in my case? Cycling is wise and sustainable form of traffic. It does not stand against anyone. It is tool for creating excellent environment. I have been able to see many examples. I was lucky to live during urbanization process. During my earlier workyears the traffic designer had good possibilities to make influence.

Obstacles in forming a view and creating a view in others

The insufficiency of one’s view to take care of a societal mission is biggest obstacle.  How can I speaking on behalf of non-motorized traffic give a favorable opinion for widening the motorway? A personal view is needed to compare cycling to high-comfortable car transport.

A view is the internal, almost personal faith. It takes time to move it.  A municipal officer is the scapegoat in the good and bad meaning.  His view inspires confidence and resistance.  From lower position is easier to influence the views of citizens and decision-makers.

Design principles of Oulu’s cycling network

The bicycle is a part of Oulu’s brand. But Oulu did not use to be a cycling city. Municipal policy had no significant links to cycling planning. Officials of city and state organizations have the more remarkable status. They are cooperating.

It is worth to mention that in Oulu planning has started in the early phase and is going on. Cycling is the part of the other transportation and land use.  The network covers the whole built area and is continuous. Routes are avoided to locate close to main highways and streets. Low-traffic residential streets are used as a part of the cycling network. An own grant for walking and cycling construction has been available since 1972.

High-priced projects have been financed separately. The costs of smaller bridges are incorporated into the main project. Underpasses are mostly used for crossing with highways and main streets. Many underpasses were opened 2016. When cycling way is closed to roadway of cars, the separating is done taking care of aesthetics and winter conditions  The pedestrian center concept was seen an applicable urban planning innovation. The center attracts also cyclists to stop and stay there. For cyclists the center area has been the spot of frailty. Development has started at last in the center –due to the complexity of modern traffic.


Winter cycling in Oulu.  Photo Mauri Myllylä 2013

Winter conditions do not prevent cycling. This has considered as a wonder in many countries. The world’s first Winter Cycling Congress 2013 was arranged in Oulu, the next 2017 is in Montreal Canada.

Key persons are needed further especially for embracing international contacts. The use of implemented structures is speaking best on behalf of continuing the work. Main problems are: How to get car drivers to use the excellent system? How to keep it in the original condition?

Espoo Otaniemi 17.8.2016
Mauri Myllylä

Kategoria(t): Biking, Jalankulku- ja pyöräliikenne, research, study Avainsana(t): , , . Lisää kestolinkki kirjanmerkkeihisi.


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