Green Urban Planning Abroad: A Car-Free Helsinki?

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Aleksanterinkatu in Central Helsinki, looking west (image:Mahlum )

Helsinki city planners have come up with a new app that will plan your urban travel for you. Hint: your car wouldn’t be that important.


The capitol of Finland, Helsinki, has city planners feeling forced to deal with their congested roads and highways. They are thinking futuristically to cut pollution, reduce traffic, and alleviate parking problems. Urban growth is expanding, and there are not enough funds for new infrastructure. Where are all the new Finns going to live, work and park!?

Mobility as a service

Planners believe they can eliminate idle cars parked all day while people work, freeing up space for more cyclists and walkers. It would in turn save commuters the cost of car ownership. The idea is called ‘mobility as a service’.

The money saved by not having a car can be used to access a mobile or computer app, which will determine the best way to get to a destination. Transportation modes may be bus, train, bicycle, shared car, or walking. More than one may be put to use for a trip.

Commuters or visitors to Helsinki will not have to think about how they will get from one place to another. It is stressful to worry if the train will be on time, or if a cab will be available. This service will take all the decision making out of travel.

I see less stress, less pollution, and more money in riders’ pockets. It seems like a win/win. Right?

Diverse users

Even though Helsinki planners are feeling pushed into a corner to find transportation solutions, this one might not suit everyone.

Independent people may not want some other entity planning their vehicle use. Others might welcome the chance to have someone/something make all those plans for them. Commuting is stressful! They may enjoy being car-free and saving money while having fewer worries about getting to work.

The truly environmentally dedicated will embrace this concept to reduce pollution, increase public transportation use, and lower their carbon footprints. They may even help develop it (it’s just been born), and might be inclined to bring it to their own cities.

Me? I’m the independent one. I want to be able to get somewhere when I want to get there. Since I work at home, I’m spontaneous about my trips to town or even to take the dog hiking. I do see this being helpful, though, if I had a planned day somewhere.

Is it practical?

This is probably not going to go into effect for five years. It’s a brand new idea that needs a lot of kinks worked out. The main one I see is that all the modes of transportation will have to work like a Swiss watch – very accurately. There can be no ‘There are no shared bicycles here for me to use’, and ‘The train is late’, and ‘I missed my connection.’ It will have to be a well-oiled and flawless system to carry thousands of people around the city every day. If they can pull that off, though, Helsinki will set a transportation precedent like no other!

What do you think? Is this a service you would use? Is it too far-fetched? Let me know in the comments!

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