How can urban growth be brought into sync with the increasing mobility requirements of residents and commuters? The Finnish city of Turku and Siemens Mobility Consulting have been exploring this issue and an initial study shows the positive impacts an intermodal transport concept and a new planned light rail system can have for the city, as Eberhard Buhl reports.
Light rail systems can help to prevent the collapse of a city’s transport system: this finding has long-since proven its validity in megacities around the world. But how do smaller cities and regions cope with their transport problems? After all, most cities worldwide are medium-sized, with something in the region of 200,000 residents.
Turku in southwest Finland also belongs in this category. Founded in the 13th century, Turku is currently the country’s fifth-largest city with just over 180,000 residents. As the center of Finland’s third-largest metropolitan area, it plays an important role in culture and education. Several vocational institutions and three universities are based in Turku, including the Åbo Akademi, Finland’s only purely Swedish-speaking university.
Thinking in terms of sustainability has been the norm here for some time. The Turku Climate and Environment Program of 2009, for example, aims to reduce the 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions per capita by 30% by 2020. Like elsewhere in the world, however, growth and prosperity are giving rise to negative impacts: the city’s growing traffic volume is responsible for around a quarter of local CO2emissions. Noise and air pollution are constantly increasing, as are congestion and accident rates.
The goal: integrated mobility
The municipality wants to tackle this problem with an intermodal transport strategy. The goal: integrated mobility. The strategy, for instance, aims to increase bicycle traffic around 50% by 2030. With annual population growth of around 2%, public transport should absorb the additional transport load between the suburbs and the city center. At the same time the strategy aims to generally shorten journeys between people’s homes and places of work through urban planning measures such as densification and mixed building utilization. All in all these are very sound measures, as the structural plan for the Turku region anticipates around 60,000 more residents and roughly 20,000 new jobs in the next two decades.
“If this population increase takes place evenly across the region, as we have seen in the past, this will pose an enormous challenge to the transport systems of the city and the surrounding area,” explains Sirpa Korte, director of the municipal transport authority. “More private cars place a great load on the road network, the air quality deteriorates and quality of life generally declines.”
The conditions for a sustainable public transport network in Turku are certainly more favorable than elsewhere. In the central areas, at least, bus services have been steadily expanded.
“Unfortunately, the capacity of the bus lines in districts like Varissuo and Runosmäki is far from sufficient,” says Korte. “And it’s difficult for us to persuade more people to take the bus when there is literally no more room for extra passengers at certain times of the day.”
The answer lies in rail
Examples in many cities worldwide show that light rail and tram systems, integrated into an overall strategy, prove to be popular measures for improving the use of urban space. In addition, an electric-powered public transport network can contribute significantly to attaining ambitious climate goals, such as those set in the Turku Climate and Environment Program.
Central Turku used to be served by an extensive tram network until the city decided to discontinue its operation in 1965. In the meantime priorities have changed: the city’s politicians are in favour of building a new light rail system and feasibility studies for two lines are already underway. As transport director Korte explains: “Public transport has to be good enough to make people want to use it instead of their own cars. That means smooth journeys, easy access and comfortable travel. Depending on the district in question, trams or an advanced bus system form the cornerstones of an overall transport strategy.
But how can city planners ensure that their measures will actually lead to the desired results? The municipal authorities went looking for a strategic partner with the necessary expertise in this field and opted for Siemens Mobility Consulting. The team consists of Siemens tram experts and Finnish colleagues in the region. The choice made sense, bearing in mind the Siemens Infrastructure & Cities Sector offers solutions for transport, building technologies and electric power from a single source. The city of Turku and the Siemens project team then carried out a study to ascertain how the favourable conditions in the region could be translated into a sustainable urban solution.
Transport and real estate
The study focused on two areas: rhe environmental angle was to examine the influence of the planned tram system on the development of CO2, particulate matter and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions within the city limits; and the economic aspect focused primarily on the development of real estate along the planned routes.
Economic development in the direct catchment area of a rail network is consistently positive all over the world. This is demonstrated by successful projects such as the new light rail system in Houston, Texas. The Turku planners expect to see a similar economic boost along the Blue Line, due for completion by 2025, and the Red Line, expected to open in 2035. The intention was to use the results of the study as a basis for future decision-making processes. Case studies from 10 European and US cities showed that the modal split – the distribution of the transport volume among different modes – rises by up to 163% within three to 15 years of the introduction of a tram or light rail system. Even with the most conservative scenario, public transport use in Turku could increase by at least 40% – and the effect is likely to be considerably greater. The calculations suggest that the introduction of the light rail system could prevent an around 25% rise in CO2emissions by 2035, which equates to 130,000 tons per year as well as a 42% increase in pollution from particulate matter. However, for the required 11.5 million tram journeys per year to actually be attained, municipal policy will effectively have to start promoting public transport use to the city’s residents years before the system goes into operation.
As a result of such an integrated solution, merely the switch of many car and bus users to the light rail system will reduce road traffic enough to bring about an estimated 11% cut in CO2and around 12% in NOx emissions. In addition, particulate emissions will fall by around 8% and – an important factor for a country with typically long winters – particulate pollution due to road gritting services and abrasion from studded tires will decline by roughly 7%.
On the right track
Greater Turku, which includes the neighboring towns of Kaarina and Raisio, covers around 13.5 million sq metres, around 60% of which is within an 800 metre zone around the planned light rail lines. A comparison of experiences in other countries showed that an integrated light rail solution leads to above-average growth in real estate value within this zone, even by conservative estimates. The value of the municipal properties alone could rise by €58 million, thus contributing to the financing of the entire transport project.
These calculations do not even take into account the so-called soft Factors – the greater quality of life for the residents and the increasingly positive image of the city. Once more, cases around the world show what a boost these factors can give to the economic, environmental and social development of a region in the medium term.
The conclusion of this study clearly shows that Turku is on the right track with its plans for an integrated transport solution. Transport director Sirpa Korte also feels the choice is justified.
“A light rail system is a tried-and-tested means of making public transport quicker, simpler and more attractive for the city’s people. In that sense, our plan is not just a transport project, but an important step toward a more pleasant life for everyone in the city center. There’s no doubt about it: the light rail system heightens the appeal of our city.”
Sirpa Korte Is Turku’s municipal transport director
This article first appeared in a different format in issue 10/2013 of Siemens Mobility Magazine COMO. Thinking Cities version by kind permission of Siemens, edited by H3B Media