Snow-melt reveals full extent of Tallinn red cycle lanes debacle

Aerial view of how the red cycle lanes have fared the winter.
Aerial view of how the red cycle lanes have fared the winter. Source: ERR

ETV news show 'Aktuaalne kaamera' (AK) revealed just how much red-colored cycle lanes installed in the capital last October had deteriorated since then, with melting snow revealing that the work had not survived the Estonian winter.

The red color used has also hit controversy due to the alleged use of hazardous microplastics in the material, even as environmentally-friendly materials were supposed to be the main basis.

Tallinn city authorities agree that the work was unsatisfactory and no match for the current winter, while the contractor, KMG OÜ, is currently investigating the cause of the erosion.

The material used was a combination of natural and synthetic components, and its bright red color was immediately noticed when the work, which cost over a million euros, was carried out, just in time for the October local elections.

The lanes were much derided on social media, including on expat groups and pages.

In the initial period after application, the freshly-painted red bike lanes often also left a residue on bike or scooter wheels, which was then often deposited as a red streak along nearby sidewalks or roads.

Tallinn deputy mayor Andrei Novikov (Center) said the city government had set stipulations before the work commenced.

Novikov said. "The city required the paint coating be permanent, that it be stable at temperatures as low as -30C, and be resistant to the various chemicals used to clean the city's streets."

KMG says it has commissioned a study from the Tallinn University of Technology, to ascertain the cause of the quick wearing out of the material.

In a written response to AK, KMG said that the technical solution had been somewhat innovative, and was selected on the basis of criteria such as environmental friendliness and properties of the material.

"Unfortunately, it can be seen that the durability of eco-products may not be as good as that of compounds based on artificial chemistry," KMG stated in its response, though the implications of the AK report were that in any case, artificial materials had been used.

Close-up of the work, post-winter. Source: ERR

The effects of the red material on the environment and on pubilc health are also still to be established, though Anna Truver, lecturer at Taltech, said microplastics released from paint can be hazardous, and takes hundreds, if not thousands, of years to degrade.

"If we say, for example, that precipitation arrives, with that precipitation all these microplastics then enter into the drainage system, and from there, into the sea," she said.

Another hazard could be inhaled dust.

Andri Tõnstein, board member of Signaal, the company who were runners-up in the tender for the contract to demarcate the cycle lanes, told AK that the conditions in the tender left open wide margins of interpretation.

"There were not many of criteria in terms of quality or basic material requirements, and, well, as is often the case in public procurement, perhaps the lowest price is offered, and the lowest price wins," Tõnstein said.

Deputy mayor Novikov said the Taltech survey results will be known by the end of March, after which alterations can be made. 

Completing fully separate cycle lanes in Tallinn will take years, he added.

The original AK slot (in Estonian) is here.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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