Docent of history Tiina Männistö-Funk has researched the history of mobility in Turku from the end of the 19th century to the 1980s. Over the years, traffic has transitioned from horses to bicycles, trams, buses and finally cars. Between the 50s and 70s, the desire was to make Turku a modern city of cars. Up to two-thirds of the buildings in the city centre were torn down to promote driving, for example.


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

Text by Janica Vilen.

In the 19th century, people in Turku got around on foot and with horses. In winter, many used kicksleds, which were a fast way to navigate the icy river and streets. In summer, you could access the city by boat along Aura River. Towards the end of the century, the first bicycles began to appear in Turku, 
along with a horsecar line in the last decade.   

Cycling became more commonplace at the beginning of 20th century, and the city gained the Föri ferry to cross the river. The horsecar was replaced with an electric tram at the very start of the century. There were still plenty of horses around, however, as coachmen transported people from place to place. Groceries and other loads were carried on either pushed or pulled trolleys, and packages were delivered on freight bicycles.   

Bus traffic started in the 1920s, which changed life in the countryside for good. That being said, the golden era of buses took place in the 60s and 70s when Turku began to build its suburbs, but cars and vans were not yet as prevalent as they are now. In the 60s, the majority of cars and vans were still used for goods transport, but this began to change quickly. Horses disappeared from city streets and cycling plummeted. Turku began to transform into a city of cars. 

A modern city of cars  

The first traffic lights in Turku were installed in 1957 at the intersection of Eerikinkatu and Kauppiaskatu. In the 1960s, there were about a dozen traffic lights in the city, and the number increased to 80 by the 1980s.  

“Between the 50s and 70s, there was a strong desire to make Turku into a modern city of cars. A lot of buildings were torn down to make way for traffic. Cultural historian Rauno Lahtinen has calculated that as many as two-thirds of the city centre buildings were lost. The city centre went through the most radical change in the country,” says docent of history Tiina Männistö-Funk.  

At the time, Olavi Laisaari was serving as Turku’s city planning architect.  

- He was a proponent of efficient American-style cities oriented towards cars. His ideal was a city that had separate areas for pedestrians in places like suburbs and shopping centres and in the form of diagonal pathways passing through city blocks. Yet the goal was never truly met anywhere else 
than in the KOP-kolmio commercial complex. It featured a shopping walkway that you could enter from the corner of the block,” Männistö-Funk says.   

The complex also included Turku’s version of the American dream: a drive-in bank you could access by car.   

- KOP-kolmio was completed in 1964 and represented state-of-the-art architecture of its day. At the same time, the streets were filled with trams and couriers on bicycles. KOP-kolmio reflected a completely different notion of the urban space to that of its surroundings, Männistö-Funk says.   

In 1950, Turku had fewer than 4,000 registered vehicles, by 1960 there were slightly more than 14,000, in 1970 more than 35,000 and in 1980 more than 53,000. Tiina Männistö-Funk has studied the development of mobility and traffic through old photographs. They show how quickly the number of cars increased on the streets in the 1970s.   

Initially, cars were mostly used by men, which is mirrored by the photos in a proportional increase in women among pedestrians. Granted, women have always covered greater distances as pedestrians than men have. In 1952, it was calculated that Finnish women in total travelled the distance from the earth to the moon on a daily basis – a distance of around 400,000 km – carrying water from the well to the livestock shelter and the home. 

The popularity of cycling has varied dramatically  

Even though the first bicycles came to Turku in the 19th century, cycling was regarded more as an athletic hobby for young people and wealthy men than a mode of transport.  There were even bicycle parades organised in the Kupittaa area.   

- The bicycle became a common means of transport in the early 20th century at the same time as elsewhere in Finland and Europe.   

In the 1950s, bicycles, horses and cars still shared the same streets. The place for bicycles was in the street among other traffic – even when you were pushing it along.   

- During the same decade, Laisaari stated in the master plan that bicycle routes should be built in Turku and mentioned some Danish examples, but concludes that there is no room for them in Turku, Männistö-Funk says.   

As the number of cars increased, the city began to tear down buildings and widen streets to provide enough room for the variety of vehicles. However, ultimately the wider streets provided cars with the op-portunity increase their speeds, which meant that the streets were no longer safe for cycling. In the 1970s, bicycles were moved from the roadway to narrow bicycle lanes on the pavement. The first lanes 
were added to Koulukatu and Puistokatu.   

- As an emergency solution, a small section of Hämeenkatu was also sectioned off for bicycles. The street has always been popular for cycling – it is among the busiest cycling streets in the country, Männistö-Funk adds.   

Cycling declined dramatically in the 1960s. For decades, cycling arrangements in Turku have been somewhat undefined and the routes have been disjointed. In 1990, cyclists even held a demonstration in the city centre, parking about a hundred bicycles in central parking spaces. Only in recent 
years have cycling arrangements been developed in earnest. Sustainable modes of transport have been promoted through the CIVITAS ECCENTRIC -project, for example. 

Completed in 1903, the Föri is Finland's oldest vehicle in everyday traffic. Photo: Turku Museum Center. Photographer: Ståhlberg.

Aura River at the heart of everything  

Aura River has always flowed through the centre of Turku, affecting traffic planning. The river can only be crossed at certain points, which leads to traffic congestion on specific streets.  

In fact, Turku has traditionally conducted traffic surveys on bridges. 

The photographs studied by Tiina Männistö-Funk show a great many merchant vessels and pleasure boats. Berths have been available right by the city centre, opposite to the current Turku City Theatre, for example.   

- In winter, people walked and rode kicksleds along the river. Temporary bridges were also constructed on the river from planks, Männistö-Funk explains.  

In 1938, more and more cars could be seen on Aurakatu. Photo: Finnish National Board of Antiquities. Photographer: Pietinen.