The government has launched a policy for increasing walking and cycling by 30 percent before 2030. This follows hot on the heels of the European Union Cycling strategy created last year with quite ambitious objectives to raise the importance of the bicycle on a par with other transport modes, increase cycle journeys, reduce the number of cyclists killed or injured significantly and improve investment in cycling.
Apparently, there’s safety in numbers, because the safest places in the world to cycle are those with high cycle use. The more people cycle, the safer it is for each individual cyclist since places with high levels of cycling are associated with lower risks. The Netherlands has the highest bicycle use, yet the least deaths per kilometers ridden. The “safety in numbers” effect may be because car and truck drivers are more aware of cyclists, drivers are more likely to be cyclists themselves and there is greater political will to improve cycling conditions, such as building infrastructure, reducing speed or increasing enforcement of traffic law.
Obviously, there are many health benefits associated with walking and cycling, better fitness, muscle strength, cardiovascular improvement and mental health benefits to mention a few. Those that incorporate walking and cycling into their commute to work also save money, and it can be much quicker than sitting in a traffic jam. Governments are also interested in stimulating the healthy commute because walking and cycling reduce pollution and greenhouse gasses from traffic.
Anne Berner, the minister of transport, launched the new policy suggesting the government would invest five million euros to increase walking and cycling nationwide over the next year. Improvements to pedestrian and cycling infrastructure are proposed, a media campaign and tax breaks were included in the plan. However, the much talked about subsidy for electric bikes was still in discussion by the government. No comment was possible at this stage.
Missing pedestrian and bicycle routes are being constructed along existing streets, and routes already in use are constantly renovated with consideration for traffic safety. This means that cycling is already an important commuter transport mode in Espoo, so much so, the busses are noticeably less crowded in the summer months. To encourage more healthy commuting, what else can be done to increase walker and cyclist safety? For example, there is much confusion at road crossings where drivers, pedestrians and cyclists appear unsure of who has the right of way.
We asked Berner about the matter. Anne Berner positively responded with the news that legislation was progressing through parliament and changes to legislation would include improvements for pedestrian and cyclist safety. Finland already has one of the highest participation rates in health beneficial activities which might help the government persuade more of us to walk or cycle to work.
Although meeting the 30 percent increase by 2030 may be difficult but admirable, Finland will be even greener and fitter than now.