Since moving to Finland nearly three months ago the way I negotiate roads both by bike and on foot has changed radically. Before I got here I thought that the only difference would be that everyone drives on the opposite side but I was wrong.
I came across this illustration by Karl Jilg a few days ago, it actually present a pretty scary scene which may not represent all roads in all countries but it captures a lot of what is ‘wrong’ with the way modern cities are designed and is definitely representative of a typical British lay out.
It’s shocking just how little space is given to vulnerable pedestrians compared to motorised vehicles, the balance needs to be flipped in the UK but personally I think there’s not much that can be done due to how closely everything is laid out there. Without spending all of the money in the world the UK and many other cities all across the globe have found themselves up shit creek with a turd for a paddle.
The modern cityscape found in many countries is one that reeks of greed and haste, where there is a quick buck to be made 9 times out of 10 somebody is going to try and make it by squeezing yet another shop or housing estate in a space that deserves more respect and thought. Then more people are herded in and they learn to live in their environment surrounded by roads filled with cars and lorries, we grow up with it and we rarely question it, but we should.
Here in Finland the typical scene is one comprising of multi-use pavements for pedestrians and cyclists that are nice and wide, in fact if you combined both sides together they would probably add up to about the save width as the road. This is great and no doubt possible because of the sheer amount of space here compared to the UK, Finland is not bursting at the seams because people here respect the land and haven’t exploited it to the point where nobody can move freely anymore.
In the UK roads are busy and people drive fast, I have always crossed when I can and have had some pretty close calls over the years, drivers there don’t slow down for you, why should they? Cars are the boss. The situation is very different in Helsinki from anywhere I have been to back home, most of the time here drivers see me waiting to cross so they stop and let me go, it’s a very odd feeling being higher up on the ladder than a motorised vehicle.
The combined road/pavement area here is mutually shared much more than I am used to, it’s common for a car to drive on the pavement and park outside a shop to make a delivery, at first it annoyed me that they were in the way but I’ve grown to accept it. Drivers respect me and I am starting to respect drivers. Whatever next?