Tartu's 'Car-free Avenue' draws criticism from locals

Tartu's Car-free Avenue
Tartu's Car-free Avenue Source: Michael Cole

Although the temporary cycle lanes planned for Tartu's Riia tänav this summer were eventually scrapped, traffic restrictions have still been put in place on the city's Vabaduse puiestee.

This is the third summer in a row that the street, which runs alongside the Emajõgi River, has been re-branded as 'Car-free Avenue' and closed off to motor traffic.  

However, while during the last two summers, Tartu's 'Car-free Avenue' was completely closed to motor vehicles, this year, during weekdays, two of its traffic lanes remain open, with the road only fully car-free on weekends.  

While this makes passing through the city center more convenient for motorists, the fact that this year's 'Car-free Avenue' will only be fully free of traffic on weekends has attracted criticism from some locals, who support the idea of an entirely pedestrian-friendly zone in the heart of Tartu throughout the summer.  

Questions have also been raised regarding the safety of allowing cars to drive through the street during weekdays, as well as the limited variety of activities on offer in comparison to previous years.

However, there are still those who say that completely closing the road during the summer makes no sense, with organizers insisting that feedback received from this year's event will help inform decisions about how to proceed with the car-free zone in the coming years.

"The car-free avenue is a very nice place. The children have really enjoyed it in previous years, but this year, perhaps the cars passing through is questionable," said Indrek, a local who was visiting the car-free zone with his children.  

This is the first time we've come here this year, and I've already had a little communication problem with the kids (about) where (to go), what (they can do) and so on," he added.

Another local, Anne told ERR that she was also slightly disappointed by the activities on offer. "Last year (it) was more interesting. At least the water flowed. Now the water has been turned off. The pool was shallow for the kids, so they could paddle. There is no pool either. It's a bit boring, let's put it that way," she said.

Tõnu, also from Tartu, had even stronger opinions. "Why is all this rubbish (just) standing here now? Nothing's happening," he said. "It's one thing if there's an event (or) the rally is here, but I don't think people should still be on the asphalt," he said.

Ragnar Kekkonen, one of the main organizers of Tartu's car-free project, said he was aware that alongside the positive feedback, there had also been some significant criticism in the city.

The most pressing concerns relate to user safety, with the usual speed limit of 30 kilometers per hour lowered to 20 km/h, as well as roadblocks and a speedometer installed along the street in an effort to prevent potential accidents involving pedestrians.  

However, there are currently no plans to make the road entirely car-free during the week, with Kekkonen explaining that, there had also been negative feedback in previous years, when the 'Car-free Avenue' street was completely closed to traffic during the week.

"It was closed (for a period during the summer) over the last two years," said Kekkonen. "At that time, we received negative feedback from the other side, from motorists asking why the road was closed. Now, we are trying this approach, which makes drivers happy, but maybe (it means) pedestrians are not so pleased."

While there are some play facilities available for children to use at any time on Car-free Avenue, Kekkonen said there would be fewer activities during the week this year, with the main program happening on weekends.

"It's like (having) a park or a beach as (part of the) urban environment, so you always have something to do. A person can come to spend their free time. We have a fountain, slides and swings. Unfortunately, this year the health board didn't allow us to open up the big pool that everyone is longing for," Kekkonen said.

Kekkonen added that, it will now be possible to compare the results of these two different approaches to managing Tartu's summer car-free zone. He believes this will lead to better-informed discussions about how to organize the event in future years.

Despite the disappointment of some locals, many tourists, as well as Tartu residents who, in previous years due to the pandemic, visited the car-free avenue in much smaller numbers, were generally positive about the current set-up

"I didn't come here last year, but this year I have and I like it. I've come here with my kids," said Kaja.

"Children need a lot of activities. The more the merrier. Parents need to look after their children and then everything will be fine," added Marita.

According to Kekkonen, all feedback will be taken into account when planning future events.

More information about the cultural program taking place on this year's 'Car-free Avenue' in Tartu can be found here.


Follow ERR News on Facebook and Twitter and never miss an update!

Editor: Michael Cole

Hea lugeja, näeme et kasutate vanemat brauseri versiooni või vähelevinud brauserit.

Parema ja terviklikuma kasutajakogemuse tagamiseks soovitame alla laadida uusim versioon mõnest meie toetatud brauserist: