The CIVITAS ECCENTRIC project has been praised not only for its concrete achievements, such as the Föli city bikes and electric buses, but also for its part in demonstrating that change is possible.

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

Text by Roope Lipasti.

- I would rate the efforts a solid nine out of ten. We did not hit every single target but, overall, the four-year process has been a resounding success. A project such as this that takes an ambitious approach to finding new paths is useful and educational regardless of whether individual measures succeed or fail. A lot has happened in four years, but it is of course difficult to determine which achievements are a direct results of ECCENTRIC, Director of Urban Planning Timo Hintsanen says, when asked about the success of the CIVITAS ECCENTRIC project.

The project involved envisioning what smart mobility could be and developing new forms of mobility. The efforts stem from Turku’s goal of becoming fully carbon neutral by 2029, which is why mobility and transport rose to the spotlight. Moreover, carbon neutrality is by no means the only benefit being targeted: when things run smartly and smoothly, mobility can foster quality of life and well-being – and the opposite is obviously also true.

In Hintsanen’s opinion, among the project’s key achievements are the effective communication efforts and ability to open up discussion about the importance of mobility:

- These are not separate concerns: mobility is closely linked to Turku’s urban development and culture, cityscape and other similar aspects. It remains somewhat astonishing to me how much of our lives we spend getting from one place to another. This is why it really matters, Hintsanen says contemplatively. 

Timo Hintsanen. Picture: Roope Lipasti.

Big changes ahead

Chair of the Green League’s City Council group Saara Ilvessalo agrees. She has been following the CIVITAS project closely from the sidelines. Her grade for the project is 9+. The fact that the traffic hub planned for the Kupittaa district was not yet realised detracts from the score slightly. The idea was to establish an area with scooters, bicycles and cars available to everyone, and even the opportunity to board a bus or train. 

Even though many concrete improvements were achieved, Ilvessalo believes that one of the most important legacies of the CIVITAS project is intangible: 

- CIVITAS has introduced the City to a culture of experimentation and instilled in it the confidence that change is possible. This is also the hope of local residents. For example, residents seem ready for changes, even quick ones, such as banning cars from certain streets. These types of changes could be implemented in easily removable ways. One of the simpler methods would be to set up movable concrete barriers. If the trials were to be found successful, they could then be made permanent.

If the intention is to stick to the climate goals, changes and confidence in their success will surely be needed: 

- We are heading towards major shifts in traffic arrangements if we intend to ensure that, within a decade, 66% of all mobility will be conducted in a sustainable manner, i.e. with public transport, bicycles or on foot. Currently we are at slightly more than 50% One important consideration in the coming years will be ensuring the ‘walkability’ of the city centre – in other words, what it would take for people to move about on foot. At the very least, it requires greenery, calm and peaceful areas, and enough space. 

Saara Ilvessalo. Picture: Teemu Nurminen

Winter cycling and electric buses 

Much has already been done for carbon neutrality in Turku in terms of energy production, but Hitsanen finds this to be the easy part of the process: 

- It is not enough to save energy or move away from fossil fuels. Emissions must also be cut in other areas, meaning construction and traffic. Emission reductions in construction take a long time, since the renewal rate of the building stock is about 1% a year. We can do more in terms of mobility, and ECCENTRIC has helped immensely in this regard by promoting sustainable mobility, Hitsanen says. 

Concrete examples include the Föli city bikes, which are a direct result of the ECCENTRIC project. 

They are also part of the public transport system. Bus lines can sometimes fall a kilometre or two short of your destination, which is where solutions like the city bikes come in. City bike stations have been positioned near bus stops to form a unified system, even to the point that we have developed a shared electronic ticket system for public transport and the city bikes, Hintsanen explains.

A massive and prominent achievement for the project has also been that Turku has gained the first fully electric bus line in the country, and more will surely be added in the future. 

On a personal level, both Hintsanen and Ilvessalo were pleased with the winter cycling trial, which involved maintaining the most important riverside routes by means of salt sweeping. Not only has this increased cycling during the winter, it has also helped keep the pavement in better condition, since tractors with sharp ploughs are not needed. This results in substantial savings.

Mobility as a service

Another important thing to note with regard to ECCENTRIC is that Turku is coordinating what is called an MaaS pallet, which consists of projects that approach mobility as a service. 

- This means that you can plan your route on a mobile device, and the software then tells you where to go and what mode of transport to use. As an example, this would mean that you do not necessarily need to own a car, since you could borrow one when needed. Solutions like this would also save space in the city, Hintsanen says. 

This is essential because Turku is becoming denser and more people are moving in, which can compromise the appeal and comfort of the city: 

- We can increase space and comfort by keeping parking off certain street areas. During the past summer, restaurant terraces were moved to parking areas, for example. Terraces will also be added to Old Great Square, which will liven it up, Hitsanen says. However, he admits that the reason for this is COVID-19 instead of the ECCENTRIC project:

- Be that as it may, the end result aligns perfectly with aims of the ECCENTRIC project.

City as a testbed

Ilvessalo, in turn, provides a reminder that many people still choose to drive even distances shorter than a kilometre, which is definitely something that needs to be improved: 

- To promote cycling culture, the cycling environment needs to be in order, meaning that we need to invest in bicycle paths. Speed limits are a part of this equation, and we will actually be restricting speeds in the city centre shortly. In other cities, driving is already decreasing, but not in Turku. If others can do it, we can too.

The shift in mobility is also linked to electric scooters, for example. 

- They are a good example of what we are aiming for through the ECCENTRIC project. The scooters themselves are not part of the project, but the project is rooted in the idea that the city can serve as a testbed for a variety of operators to try things out and offer their solutions – like the electric scooters, which have reshaped mobility immensely within the last few years, Hintsanen says.

Smart parking

What about those who live in the region’s periphery: is it realistic for someone from further away to leave their precious car in a suburb outside the city centre and cover the rest of the way by bus, for example? 

- Well, what if you could leave the car in a car park under the Vartiovuori district, for instance? This is in the works, and we have also considered ways to ensure the feasibility of this arrangement. Shuttle buses could run between the city centre and the car park, Saara Ilvessalo envisions. 

Parking is an essential consideration within the CIVITAS project: among other solutions, ways to make parking smarter have been explored. Unnecessary driving could be reduced by providing a smartphone app that indicates where parking is available. With a potential tram, people could easily leave their cars further away thanks to the reliable and fast access to the city centre. 

Parking in the city centre of Turku. Picture: Juha Pulmuranta.

Good city

In terms of driving in the city centre: 

- The City Strategy clearly states that the city centre must be accessible by all modes of transport, including cars. On the other hand, unnecessary drive-through traffic must be weeded out. Those who are not going to the city centre specifically should drive around it. Aura Bridge being closed to motor vehicles is related to these efforts, Timo Hintsanen says.

All of the measures listed above will lead to a carbon neutral Turku:

This clean and pollution-free Turku of tomorrow will encourage locals towards healthier mobility and make parking areas available for other purposes. Ensuring safe transport and mobility for all people regardless of their age, this city of the future will be good for everyone, Ilvessalo says in summary.