Analysis: Extensive tramlines key to improving Tallinn transport links

Trams in Tallinn.
Trams in Tallinn. Source: TLT

A recent feasibility study into Tallinn's public transport system sees tram lines the answer to current problems. The analysis resulted in around 20 options, to both alleviate inadequacies in the city, plus extending routes to the outer suburbs and even beyond city limits, ERR's online news in Estonian reports.

The proposals take a 20-30 year perspective and consider possible future demographic changes in Tallinn and environs, as well as the proposed Rail Baltica high speed rail link.

Issue concerning car traffic, which would need a reduction, to make some of the lines effective (and indeed aim at encouraging people to leave their cars behind) were considered, as was the fact that Tallinn public transport is free to residents, and often seen as both the preserve of lower income brackets and lacking the revenue that paid ticketing would bring.

Work is needed in all directions when using central Tallinn as a starting point, the research found, with North Tallinn and the Kopli peninsula, Mustmäe and Haabersti, as well as Lasnamäe under the spotlight.

Municipalities outside Tallinn to the south, east and west were also considered in the report, commissioned by Tallinn Transport Authority and the Harju County Association of Municipalities (HOL).

The problem

"A network should ensure that much of the city has access to tram or similar transport. As Tallinn's districts aren't very well connected at the moment, improved interconnections would also work," said Kaarel Kose, of HOL.

Hannes Luts, analysis project manager, told ERR that the initial findings are somewhat of a broad sweep, with a large part of the selected routes, some 20 in the interim report, will be discarded.

"First of all, we will eliminate those routes where peak time demand is clearly low. Then we will carry out a regular cost-benefit analysis, to figure out the cost-effectiveness ratio of those routes left," Luts explained.

As well as within Tallinn, four routes crossing city limits to Viimsi, Maardu, Jüri and Tabasalu, were outlined. The latter routes might not work out at all due to lower passenger volumes, however, and are based on extrapolating from the present what the future demographic in those areas might be, and whether these could possibly support tram routes extending that far out of the city.

"With current traffic volumes, any major route traversing the city might not work out. The question is whether these areas [outside Tallinn] are developing – current data shows the population there growing," Luts said.

A lot also depends on municipalities, and if new residential builds are near either existing or prospective public transport routes. According to Luts, while planning has not always been the best on the part of municipalities, there are signs that this will improve in the future.

Potential route directions

Kaarel Kose added that there were often almost as many opinions on where tram lines could run as there were people to travel on them, noting that a longer perspective, of 20-30 years, would be covered, including areas which currently do not currently have large populations.

"There are some quite complicated options and alternatives, even in central and North Tallinn. On the one hand, North Tallinn has some existing routes of former railways which could be utilized; on the other, there has been plenty of real estate development in areas not even currently connected to public transport, for instance in the region around the Seaplane Harbor," he added.

Hannes Luts said that a new North Tallinn route was essential, with Liivalaia street and also Mustamäe in need of services.

Mustamäe and western Tallinn

Options for Mustamäe included one from the Kristiine district at the Endla Street rail bridge, to Sõpruse Avenue and along that to the Ehitajate crossroads, or alternatively along Mustamäe Road to the Akadeemia intersection (see Map 1).

The existing tramline on Pärnu Highway could also be extended to the Järve district and then connected to the Mustamäe route, facilitating a direct connection to Ülemiste – significant because the proposed Rail Baltica train station will be situated there.

Map 1: The alternative to the Mustamäe line, which runs along Sõpruse Avenue, is marked in purple. Green also shows another Mustamäe route alternative (7A), in addition to the Õismäe line (8B), Õismäe and Mustamäe connecting line (7B) and along Tammsaare Road. Source: SUMBA


Lasnamäe and eastern Tallinn

Lasnamäe, which has reportedly long coveted a tram link, could end up getting two – one from Kadriorg, past the Song Festival Grounds and along either Narva Road or the planned Rahu Road, to Priisle, Lasnamäe's easternmost extremity.

Alternatively, the end point of this route could be be Laagna Road, which would involve the tram route passing along Mustakivi Road, also significant because a hospital is planned for the area.

The second Lasnamäe route would run from the center to Laagna Road and follow it to Lasnamäe, and could even run as far as Maardu, a residential district outside Tallinn (see Map 2).

Laagna Road would facilitate a fast connection, it was argued.

Map 2: One of the two Lasnamäe propsed routes on Laagna Road is marked in purple. At the top, alternatives to the second line run along Narva Highway as green lines. At top left is the line that would run from Kadriorg to Pirita Road. Source: SUMBA


North Tallinn

One option would see a route from the Kristiine railway viaduct, along Madara and Sõle Streets, to the Maleva stop, which would connect the western half of North Tallinn with the city center.

The second route would run along Kalaranna and Tööstuse Streets, to Kopli Street.

A third option would run along Ristiku Street to Puhangu Street or Stroomi Beach, though the Sõle option was reportedly the strongest contender (see Map 3).

Map 3: North Tallinn route alternatives. 9A (purple) moves along Kalaranna Street, another alternative (15) along Sõle Street. Source: SUMBA


Ülemiste still a burgeoning district

Links between Haabersti and Mustamäe, to Ülemiste, projected to see a rise in the number of jobs in the coming decade or two and likely the site of Estonia's largest and possibly most significant transport hub. This would traverse Haabersti along Ehitajate, Tammsaare and Järvevana Roads, to Ülemiste.

This needn't however be a tram route; an express bus with its own dedicated lane was also an option.

A tramway from the center to Kristiine Rail viaduct would start at the Liivalaia and Tartu Highway intersection, and running along Liivalaia, Suur-Ameerika and Endla Streets. An alternative would be from Rävala Street, along Kentmanni, Estonia and Kaarli streets to Endla.

Outside of Tallinn

So far as routes outside Tallinn city limits go, the Viimsi link would be just under 11 km in length and run from Narva Highway to Haabneeme. This would bring the large number of daily commuters (estimated at over 9,000) to the city center and Ülemiste connections, via Pirita, to the Song Festival Grounds as well.

The Jüri route would run from the end of the present-day airport tram terminal along Tartu Highway and through townships such as Peetri, Assaku and Järveküla. A Rail Baltica train station is also planned for Assaku.

The Maardu line would be a continuation of the existing tram route which terminates at Kallavere. There are a reported 8,000 daily commuters going from and to Maardu, principally to Lasnamäe.

The route to Tabasalu, west of Tallinn, would start at the center and pass through Kristiine along Paldiski Highway to the Haabersti intersection, thence to Tabasalu, though trams reportedly would need to bypass the small hill or eminence leading into Tabasalu.

Analysis a starting point

Analysis on all the options is to be ongoing through the rest of this year and will include forecasts in changes and trends affecting residential areas, workplaces etc. in Tallinn and Harju County, looking ahead to the next 30 years and in the light of trends over the past 20 years.

The degree of accuracy, for instance in the cost of construction, in the analysis will not be particularly high, however, according to Hannes Luts.

"These are estimated values. Certainly you can't say the exact technical solution; instead, we outline where a line goes, where overpasses are needed etc.," he noted.

Once that phase is carried out, Luts said that the hope is the plans reach the decision-makers, who should be able to pick out the most promising line for future developments.

I hope this results in more accurate analysis and design for each particular line," said Luts.

Impact on cars

A stated goal of the proposed tram network extensions is to slow cars down and ideally to reduce car traffic volumes.

At the moment, according to Kose, public transport and its connections simply is not keeping up with the growing population in Tallinn.

"Worst of all is the fact that the people who public transport (which is free for all Tallinn residents-ed.) is aimed at are those from the lowest income levels, whereas those at higher income levels have reached saturation levels, and seem to be moving into the center and practically giving up the car," Kose said.

"The goal is, those that want a car, let them have it, but people should not buy a car just as a means of daily transportation, and instead use public transport," he added.

Nevertheless, 2017 research from pollsters Kantar Emor noted that 65 percent of weekday journeys in Tallinn and Harju County were made by car, with just 10 percent on public transport; Tallinn and neighboring municipalities have set themselves the goal of reducing car traffic by 10-20 percent by 2035, with the city center itself being car-free, and public transport being carbon dioxide-neutral.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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