Helsinki cycling culture is going a bit peculiar on me. For one thing, why are so many adults cycling on pavements? And why do cycle lanes seem to make so little difference in the town centre?
A friend once pointed out that in Turku pedestrians know how to distinguish a cycle lane from a pavement (sidewalk – but you knew that, sorry.) Odd that Helsinki is so different (spot the two on the left there).
(And note how it’s wet in the photo. Half of yesterday actually qualified as an ordinary rainy day in Finland. Back to heat and sun now.)
I can’t agree more with the view from Turku. Particularly since the end of the holidays (Monday), it seems that Helsinki’s streets have been overwhelmed with activity. Pedestrians, cyclists, mobility scooters and of course cars, motorbikes and mopeds abound, and everyone is suddenly in a rush. Or they’re dawdling and in my way.
Oh for July!
Anyway, one possible reason for the difference between Turku and Helsinki might be the sheer number of Helsinki’s tourists. Also, most of them stay too little time in this fair city of ours to learn about cycle lanes. No matter how many of us cyclists merrily ring our bells and smile our friendly smiles when they take the hint, by the time they’ve learned what the painted white bicycle on the tarmac signifies, off they go, taking the bus to Hernesaari and their cruise-liner or to the airport, never to be seen again.
But of course, tourists are not to blame for any real problems experienced by Helsinki’s cyclists! Lazy planning and drivers are. The latter, well, the former too, all too often suffer from what we at JHJ call “attitude problems”. These in turn are made even more comlplicated by the confusing legislation on the subject. This was, however, helpfully dissected by the Green writer and blogger Osmo Soininvaara yesterday. I’ll try and summarise.
It used to be a simple thing to work out who needs to give way to whom, bike or car. A bike was an equal on the road with a motorised vehicle and like vehicles gives way or doesn’t according to the “give-way-to-the-right-rule”. Then things changed.
Should a cyclist be arriving from a cycle lane they must give way except where the cycle lane looks like a cycle lane but doesn’t have a cycle-lane sign in which case they have parity with cars. Except the driver is unlikely to know this.
Depending on whether the gap between the cycle lane and the roadway is 5cm or 20m, when a car wishes to turn right, they must or must not let the cyclist go first. (Soininvaara toys with the thought that some cyclist should sacrifice themselves in aid of narrowing down the range of possibilities between 5cm and 20m.)
The stuff about roundabouts is incomprehensible.
Cyclists crossing zebra-crossings must dismount. Unless there is a gap in the white markings signifying a cycle lane.
When arriving at a “give way” sign, a driver is obliged to stop. Soininvaara suspects that drivers may be too thick to understand this.
If you are having difficulty crossing a road while using a cycle lane, break the law he suggests, and join the cars. The rules change once more, everyone remains confused, but you may reach your destination quicker.
In sum, should you have in mind to approach a road junction on a bicycle, best to take a lawyer with you, says Soininvaara. In Finnish a lawyer is a juristi. Hence my clumsy attempt at a rhyme.
Or does all this provide a clue as to why four parallel railway tracks were removed from down the side of Hermannin Rantatie (map), and replaced with crushed granite? When it’s turned into a cycle lane Helsinki’s cyclists will have plenty of room.