Bicyclists on Hämeentie in Helsinki.The bicycle is by far the most effective means of transport for distances shorter than five kilometres in Helsinki. Public transport, in turn, will get you to destinations further than five kilometres from you faster than your feet or bicycle.

While driving is often a fast way to zip through the streets of Helsinki, walking and cycling are faster alternatives for short journeys.

These conclusions can be drawn from a travel time matrix developed at the Department of Geosciences and Geography of the University of Helsinki. The data illustrate both the distance and time required to travel from one place to another in the capital region by feet, public transport or private car.

Overall, the matrix comprises 13,230 destinations.

The travel times have been approximated by utilising the so-called door-to-door approach. The time it takes you to walk to your car, find a parking space and walk to your destination has therefore been taken into account for journeys made by car. The estimates have been made on the basis of previous literature.

Travel times for cyclists have been calculated by multiplying pedestrian walking speeds by four because the data do not include cycling. The assumption is that pedestrians travel at a speed of 4.2 kilometres an hour and cyclists, consequently, at a speed of 16.8 kilometres an hour.

“Cycling is sort of brisk walking in the model, the assumption being that you can cycle wherever you can walk,” says Tuuli Toivonen, a tenure track professor at the Department of Geosciences and Geography.

Cycling was excluded from the matrix due to a lack of precise information on cycleways.

All other data, however, are readily available online. Toivonen lauds municipalities in the capital region for their transparent data practices, pointing out that a similar matrix would have been notably more difficult to create elsewhere in the world. The research group had access to an abundance of data on the population and services of the region, public transport timetables and the national car database.

The findings have similarly been made available on the Internet. Both the travel time matrix and the tools used to develop it can be accessed online, highlights Henrikki Tenkanen, a doctoral student assigned to the research project.

The data have been utilised to examine the accessibility of shops, for example.

A study conducted by Perttu Saarsalmi found that up to 600,000 residents of the capital region can get to their local shop faster by feet or bus than by private car. The calculations cover the entire region, up until the northernmost parts of Nuuksio.

The large shopping centres that flank the ring roads, such as the Jumbo Shopping Centre in Vantaa, are contrastively difficult to access without a car. In fact, the shopping centre is one of the most accessible places in the entire region for car owners, according to a study by Toivonen, Maria Salonen and Mari Vaattovaara.

Services in downtown Helsinki are accessible both by car and public transport. Overall, however, the availability of services in the capital region depends considerably on whether you are travelling by car, feet or public transport.

In addition, the researchers have devised projections on the impact of the Western Metro Extension on accessibility, estimating the extension will make the Tapiola Library accessible to 160,000 people instead of the current 115,000 within 30 minutes.

The researchers speak about travel times, while they are in fact referring to accessibility.

Accessibility is a topic of interest for scholars of both urban geography and development geography. Researchers at the University of Helsinki have examined, for example, the impact of transport on the Amazon on traffic flows in Peru.

“Accessibility is an important aspect of people's daily lives, land use and economy all over the world. Its importance is even greater in regions with poor transport connections,” explains Salonen.

Transport connections determine, for example, the availability of education and health care services as well as the deforestation of rainforests in certain regions. Essentially, they create opportunities to interact.

A geek might claim that it is no longer necessary to get from one place to another due to the possibilities offered by the Internet.

Alex Pentland, a well-known professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), dismissed such claims during his visit to Finland in mid-June. The big data expert believes the dissemination of ideas is driven by people meeting face to face.

“Accessibility guides our choices about what services to use, where to go and whether or not to leave the house in the first place,” Toivonen explains.

One of her students, Hanna Käyhkö, approached accessibility from the viewpoint of the elderly in her master's thesis. A city is entirely different from the viewpoint of a slow and fragile pedestrian than from that of someone juggling a hectic career and young children.

Arja Kivipelto – HS
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Photo: Juhani Niiranen / HS