In 2019 not a cyclist or pedestrian was killed in Helsinki, this year only two cyclists and three pedestrians. The deputy mayor for urban development, Anni Sinnemäki, explains how the Finnish capital did it.
Technology Review: Helsinki achieved a Vision Zero target in 2019, as traffic accidents did not kill cyclists and pedestrians. How did 2020 go?
Anni Sinnemäki: Unfortunately, two cyclists and three pedestrians died that year. But last year we were really happy, it was a historic result that no cyclists or pedestrians died. For us, however, Vision Zero means that no motorized drivers die either. From this point of view we are not there yet, as two motorcyclists and one car driver were killed last year and one motorcyclist and one car passenger this year.
Even so, Helsinki prevented many fatal accidents. How did you do that?
In the 1960s, 30 to 40 pedestrian accidents were normal in Helsinki each year. The most important safety measure was that from the seventies the speed limits were gradually reduced. In 2018, as a final step, we extended the reduction from 50 to 40 km / h on all main roads and from 40 to 30 km / h on the other roads.
New speed limits are notoriously unpopular. How did you get the citizens on board?
Politically, it was not easy, there was heavy criticism, and even the 2018 decision was not unanimous. But since the discussions and decisions about limits started back in the seventies and it was a slow process, it ultimately wasn’t that painful. Another thing that certainly had an impact is that Helsinki is a good city for public transport. More than 75 percent of all routes are covered by public transport, bike or on foot. So cars are not that dominant.
What are you planning next?
In the future, we want to prevent not only fatal accidents, but also serious injuries, especially at intersections. Now that speed limits are no longer the main problem, let’s focus on the physical shape and structure of the roads and intersections, which are the most dangerous places for accidents. This means that, for example, we narrow the lanes as you approach an intersection, set up elevated pedestrian crossings, and widen sidewalks at intersections. So that the road structure ultimately dictates how to behave. Because if a wide road looks like a freeway, people might not be sticking to 40 km / h because the road doesn’t feel like it. We also work with the police to monitor vehicle speed, red lights and one-way streets with seventy cameras.
Is this happening all over the city or are you analyzing where the most dangerous places are?
When we renewed our road safety program, we analyzed data on injuries and fatalities and found that there are around 20 intersections where most accidents happen. In addition, this autumn we invited citizens with a city map-based questionnaire to tell us which places they perceive as dangerous and why. We are very happy that so many took part.