Pärtel-Peeter Pere: Tallinn is like a popup city

Pärtel-Peeter Pere.
Pärtel-Peeter Pere. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

It is clear by now that Tallinn has missed yet another opportunity to make getting around the capital safer and more convenient, Pärtel-Peeter Pere writes.

Tallinn's indecisive mayor Mihhail Kõlvart (Center Party – ed.) has failed to popularize public transport and bicycle use for years, not to mention making sure pedestrians are safe on sidewalks. Now, Tallinn has done its utmost to make sure everyone walks. But is practical change possible?

Tallinn traffic is in chaos because roadworks have been organized about as effectively as the switch to teaching in Estonian. All the roads are open, just not for driving on. Tallinn has become a popup city, and not in a good way. Yet, temporary and simple solutions would have sufficed, which should have been used straight away but can still be required from contractors.

The hours people waste just waiting around [in traffic] is one thing. Hours they could spend working or resting instead. Shops, businesses, cafes and service providers located in the city center are another. Companies large and small are taking a massive turnover hit. They represent jobs the city's continued baffling ineptitude is jeopardizing. The livelihood of ordinary citizens.

The most painless solutions that would not require any lanes to be closed or traffic light cycles changed are as follows. Contractors need to be required to provide wider temporary pedestrian paths immediately. You know, the metal bridges and rubber mats on which people currently struggle to squeeze past one another, with scooters whizzing past at breakneck speed. We need more of them, and they need to be wider.

Temporary walkways also need to have clearly designated directions, with the bicycle path on the left and the pedestrian track on the right, for example. In the end, they need to form parts of complete routes. Walkways and bicycle paths could link all city center schools and be connected to the few designated bicycle roads Tallinn has.

How to help the mayor muster the courage to demand action from contractors? Inspiration can be found in the Finnish Network of Cycling Communities' guidelines, complete with instructions and images of how to maintain and boost bicycle use during roadworks.

Should Kõlvart finally manage to require a little less conversation and a little more action from contractors, efforts need to move on to street markings and communication. "Good people making trips of up to six kilometers or 30 minutes in the city center, feel free to take advantage of our brilliant bicycle paths." Or at the very least: "Don't worry, parents, because your children now have a safe (from scooters) walking route to the city center and back."

This could help alleviate car traffic between spring and fall if only a little. We could also get public transport and cars moving and give companies a new lease on life. Roadworks are scheduled to continue until fall, while we are seeing a warm spring, with summer just around the corner. We are talking about the city center. Tallinn is a tiny city. If there is ever a good time to try and alleviate car traffic by shifting some of the burden onto other modes of transport, roadworks when the weather is hot is it.

Scientific literature and empirical studies show that it is possible to boost the share of bicycle traffic permanently by 5-12 percent. The capital's official mobility plan prescribes 350 cars per 1,000 residents by 2030, instead of the current 470. This indicator is currently still growing by 5 percent a year, while it should be shrinking by as much.

It is commonplace in other Nordic capitals for trips of up to six kilometers or 30 minutes to see the use of bikes. But people only do it when there is safe infrastructure running from start to finish. Just like you don't have to drive on what resembles the lunar surface when in a car.

Bicycle roads are based on that 30-minute concept in the Stockholm area and developed in cooperation with the outlying municipalities. Like taking a bicycle from Peetri to the city center in Estonia. Even if you wouldn't undertake such a trip, your neighbor or their kids might.

The Stockholm Chamber of Commerce published a 15-minute city survey this spring that maps out benefits for businesses and the economy and sheds light on what companies (working with the city) can do to turn a modern urban environment and mobility into enablers of economic growth.

It is clear by now that Tallinn has missed yet another opportunity to make getting around the city safer and more convenient. The damage done can still be alleviated if only a little. Mihhail Kõlvart lacks skills of strategic city planning, such as public transport and traffic planning. I wonder if he can do simpler things, like operative construction project management?


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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