The European Mobility Week is just around the corner, with cities in Europe and the world over looking forward to the European Commission’s flagship sustainable mobility campaign from 16-22 September.
As anticipation builds ahead of this iconic event, this is a good time to delve into the secrets of an outstanding example from last year’s edition: Tampere.
In 2021, the Finnish city won the Sustainable Urban Mobility Planning award for its efforts to link health and mobility and for its focus on safety, environmental responsibility and accessibility.
In this interview, Sanna Ovaska, a Project Manager at the municipality of Tampere, walks us through the city’s inspiring mobility plan, and how it promotes residents’ well-being while providing answers to common mobility challenges.
In 2021 Tampere was awarded for its mobility efforts. What was your winning recipe?
Sustainable mobility can improve health in many ways by encouraging physical activity, mental well-being and creating equal opportunities. Public health is also very much linked to the quality of our mobility system.
With traffic as the main culprit of bad air quality in Tampere, cutting the number of cars is paramount for air quality; this in addition to setting up recreational areas, making outdoor destinations easily accessible, offering quiet paths in green areas, with nature always within reach of city dwellers.
Health also means mental well-being that can be maintained and improved in many ways such as with art at tram stops or by adding green and blue areas (trees and waterways) in densely populated areas.
What did winning the award mean for your city?
It’s great to see our work recognised elsewhere in Europe. Awards always provide a good boost to our plans, and an example for others to follow: we are learning from other cities and cities facing similar challenges can learn from Tampere.
There is still much to do to meet our climate targets, but it’s always good to stop for a moment and celebrate what’s already been achieved. Tampere has been doing a lot in recent years and has more ambitious plans for the future.
Your winning formula includes spatial efficiency and accessible travel for all. What more can you tell us about them?
Spatial efficiency is crucial in a fast-growing city like Tampere with a narrow centre located between two lakes. Our challenge is: how to share space when we can’t offer more of it? Sustainable mobility modes are spatially efficient so we need to rely on them as well as on smart mobility solutions to tackle our traffic problems. At the same time, offering new mobility options alone will only go so far because changes need to be properly marketed to attract potential new users.
One of Tampere’s main goals is to provide all residents with the opportunity to easily move from one location to another. Daily mobility relying on sustainable modes of transport must be possible with reasonable effort, in reasonable time and at a reasonable cost for everyone.
On the other hand, sustainable mobility is safe in Tampere and that’s important because security influences users’ decisions when it comes to choosing a mode of transport.
Can you give us an example of your safety policy?
For us, every child has the right to a safe and active school trip. In Finland, kids go to school independently at quite a young age. However, parents tend to drive their kids if they see or feel that the school route is not safe. And when more and more parents drive, they obviously make the environment worse. This is why traffic planning experts and schools are now working together to make school trips safe to encourage families to embrace active mobility. The contribution of school personnel like teachers is also very important. In addition, we offer e-bike, bike trolley and trailer bike trials for families.
Are people in Tampere mainly driving electric or fuel vehicles?
The number of e-cars is rapidly increasing, but the majority still uses fuel vehicles in Tampere and in Finland. Those choices will also depend on the energy crisis fuelled by the war in Ukraine. On the other hand, the city can contribute to weaning people off fuel vehicles: for instance, the tram that started operating in August 2021 furthered the electrification of public transport. That will continue with the addition of 26 new electric buses this year.
When did Tampere’s sustainable mobility shift start?
Over the past decade, our city made great steps such as investing in cycling and other sustainable mobility modes. In 2014, we introduced the new regional public transport system that included not just new routes and lines but also a new ticketing system. This increased the number of public transport trips and improved service level.
In 2016 we reached another milestone when Tampere made the historical decision to build a tramway. And then 2021 was a ‘super year’ for sustainable mobility in our city because the tram started to operate and city bikes became available for rental.
In addition, our new Sustainable Mobility Plan received the seal of approval. It focuses on six target areas: climate neutrality, safety, efficiency, active mobility, equality, and environmental responsibility
Last year also saw the reopening of the Hämeenkatu boulevard, our main city centre street that had been closed for renovations. That space is exclusively accessible to public transport, pedestrians and cyclists.
How do you think cities should win people’s hearts when it comes to sustainable mobility?
The one who knows gets the Nobel prize! It’s not easy and the effort needs a concerted set of actions, political support and cooperation. People and their needs vary therefore mobility options need to be easy, available and should be inviting to new users. Relying on an effective and reliable regional public transport network is also important because Tampere is a regional capital.
What are your plans for this year’s EU Mobility Week?
I think we’ll concentrate on sustainable commuter trips and work together with workplaces and companies. Employers can encourage their employees to embrace active mobility in many ways and offer support for that. We can also help people to find new travel route options between home and their workplace with city bikes, for example.