How has Turku succeeded in ECCENTRIC from the point of view of Madrid and Stockholm? 

This article has been written as a part of the EU-funded CIVITAS ECCENTRIC -project: 

Text by Roope Lipasti

When Mr Juan Azcárate Luxán, Madrid site manager in CIVITAS ECCENTRIC project, was visiting Turku in February 2017, he tried something quite exotic for a person from Spain: wintercycling in a sweep-salted bicyclepath.

- We had one of those bikes with fat tyres and it was working very fine. Another memorable thing was how Turku has succeeded in testing how biogas works for heavy-duty freight vehicles. Specially interesting is how Turku has combined private and public sector. We also have tested biogastrucks in Madrid, and Turku has been a sort of inspiration for us in that respect. 

All and all, from the point of view of Madrid, Turku is an impressive place because it is such a human size city: 

- Everything is near – a 15 minute city approach, as they say. Turku has an environment that is humane and positive. It is a place which offers a lot of opportunities for culture and tourism; a very lively city, where walking and cycling is easy – though the challenge for them is, I think, the extreme weather conditions. However, ECCENTRIC has succeeded well in advancing mobility in winter. Salt-sweeping is but one thing: also the winter use of electric buses is important and of course Turku is a forerunner in MaaS. 

Benefits on size

Mr Paul Fenton, Site Manager & WP4 Leader (Safe Walking & Cycling) of ECCENTRIC in Stockholm, agrees with his Madrid colleague. He thinks, that Turku is by size and topography a city with enormous potential to increase cycling in the city and region:

-Turku is similar to several medium-sized Swedish cities and I see various parallels in terms of potential for active mobility, public transport and shared mobility to reduce private car ownership, says Mr Fenton. 

Being a medium-size city is not just a challenge but also a benefit:  

- Logistics is a challenge in pretty much all cities nowadays, but medium-sized cities have an opportunity to revitalise their city centres, whilst enabling e-commerce through creative use of road space and access regulations to prioritise sustainable forms of delivery over transport using fossil fuels. Also, Turku has several key characteristics – regional hub, home to major employers, international transport centre, national commuter flows, university city – that give it leverage locally, nationally and in Europe (something not all cities have!). So, in sum, I see Turku as a place full of potential! 

Long term vision

According to Mr Azcárate Luxán, one of Turkus advantages is that it has got a clear long term vision of the future. Livinglab of Kupittaa – one thing Mr Azcárate Luxán was introduced while visiting the city, is a good example: 

- In the area of Science Park in Kupittaa, companies, university and the city activities are mixed together, which is very interesting - mixing users, mutual benefit!

The same philosophy is seen also in intelligent mobility in which Turku is doing well:

- Technology is of course important, but it is not enough. Intelligent mobility also requires a vision of the city and how to move there. This kind of thinking is strong in Turku. 
Mr Paul Fenton thinks likewise:

- I think most people in our project have appreciated the deep commitment and engagement of Stella Aaltonen and her colleagues. Turku has worked hard, tested lots of new ideas and constantly tried to find new ways to improve. For us, and for other cities, that’s positive to see, more than any single action. We need energetic people with ideas to transform and improve our world, and it seems Turku has many.

Winter cycling by the Turku riverside. Picture: Juha Jokela

Success in winter cycling

To achieve the carbon neutrality is not easy anywhere, neither in Turku. According to Mr Fenton, a lot of “footwork” is still needed. Turku – and other cities – have to work even harder to prioritise active mobility (walking and cycling), public transport, shared mobility and MaaS, sustainable logistics and of course, clean vehicles and fuels. 

- Phase out fossil fuels now – use public procurement as a tool, but also engage all kinds of local and regional stakeholders to accelerate the wider transition, says Mr Fenton as a key for the future. 

Still, there is a lot to be proud of even now: 

- My views are of course from the “outsider” perspective, and may not match the local experience. However my impression is that all-year round cycling has been a success – the introduction of sweep-salting to improve winter maintenance seems to have increased user satisfaction and use levels. I know the city administration has tested many types of electric vehicles and also succeeded in demonstrating a city bike system using a smart form of contract and agreement. The development of MaaS in Turku has also been interesting to follow.

What to learn?

If we compare for example Turku and Madrid, what could Turku learn from the much bigger city? Mr Juan Azcárate Luxán reminds, that cities are of course different, not only by size but also by culture and climate: 

- But perhaps in Madrid we have succeeded quite well in the use of public space. Our city centre is very nice for people who walk. Though we must remember, that the city centres rarely are the problem, because they are well looked after. The problem is usually the peripheral parts of the city and that’s why they should be the ones to focus on. 

Another thing that Turku could learn from Madrid has got to do with the sharing system of electric cars and –motorbikes: 

- We have a few private companies that offer electric cars and motorbikes quite cheaply – five kilometres for one euro. The city helps in the way that parking of those vehicles is free of charge – that is a thing quite important in the centre of Madrid. Even so, there is not enough parking space, so the city is going to name certain places, that are only for these e-vehicles. The system is also very easy to use, says Mr Azcárate Luxán. 

Easy to use is one thing that is essential:

- The challenge also for Turku is that the accessibility for these new technologies is such that most people – also children and elderly people – can be able to use them.  

Still much to do

And what about from the point of view of Stockholm - what could have done better in Turku? Mr Paul Fenton says that the question is not that simple - much depends on what is the goal: 

- If climate is the priority, then Turku and all other cities must work faster and more dramatically to change its approach to get rid of fossil fuels. If efficient use of space is the priority – to make a city more attractive for social or commercial reasons – or public health is the priority, then the drivers are different, even if some of the conclusions would be the same. That is, use shared spaces for shared services and shared value – parks, shops, cafes, boulevards and bike lanes, public transport, shared mobility. Get people out of their cars and active, engaged in their local community.

So in that respect, when one observes the everyday traffic in the centre of Turku, there remains a lot to do even after ECCENTRIC.