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Choose sustainably: Finland’s National Coordinators underline the importance of mobility habits

24 April 2023

In 2022, Finland broke its personal record for the number of towns and cities that participated in EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK. We sat down with Jenni Marsio, Finland’s National Coordinator, and Anni Hytti from Finland’s Transport and Communications Agency, to discuss their ambitions for the upcoming year, strategies for improving sustainable mobility in smaller towns (hint: trip-planning and electric bicycles!) and what they think of the 2023 theme ‘Save Energy.’

The theme for 2023 is ‘Save Energy,’ which is something that Finland also focused on in 2022. How can sustainable and active mobility help people save energy and reduce the use of fossil fuels in their daily lives?

Anni: I would say that active travel is actually the key to sustainable mobility, and energy saving as well. I think the challenge, at least for us, is to get people to move actively because there are quite a lot of people who still rely on their car, even for shorter journeys. That’s a real issue, I think. So active mobility is probably one of the key things. Really, whatever you do for sustainability and active [travel] modes is a good thing and helps in this matter.

There is also the Clean Vehicle Directive, which requires public transport organisations, and other organisations that do public procurement, to procure cleaner vehicles, so that public transport continues to become cleaner all the time. Electric vehicles are more energy efficient as well and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

In Finland, many people live in smaller towns or rural areas. For people who do not have direct access to public transport or need to travel greater distances, how can they travel more sustainably and save energy?

Jenni: This is of course something that we have discussed a lot when planning the campaign because some of the messages that work really well in bigger cities might not work in smaller cities. At the same time, of course, we have to remember that also in Finland urbanisation is happening and more people are moving to cities or to city-like environments, where they have access to public transport or they actually live so close that they can walk or take the bike. But there are areas where it's still a challenge and we have some recent studies that indicate that electric bikes might be helpful.

Anni: Yes, definitely. Not the most remote areas, though. That’s always a challenge, and there you have to plan how you move around so that you can make fewer trips. But in places where the distances are 10-20 kilometres, electric bikes offer a good solution, or at least help people move around. We are still in the process of writing the research, but we do have some results that actually support the idea that if you get an electric bike, you can give up your car for shorter journeys. Usually it's more fun to move around with an electric bike and it's easier because you don't have to think about parking so much and you can still easily carry quite a lot of stuff. Also, when you live in an environment where you have a lot of hills or if your commute is 20 kilometres, you probably don't want to do that with a regular bike because you sweat a lot and so on, but with an electric bike it’s already a possibility.

Jenni: I think what (Anni) said in the beginning is really important: planning a bit more, thinking about car-sharing, combining trips. This behaviour can help a lot!

Definitely! EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK is all about encouraging people to make more sustainable travel choices that make sense for them. What are the challenges to moving sustainably in Finland? What solutions have you seen that have been successful, both in big city centres and smaller towns?

Anni: One of the biggest challenges, as we’ve already mentioned, is changing habits and traditions. If you own a car, which many people do, and it’s just sitting there in your front yard, you are quite prone to using it. We have to unlearn using the car, especially for short distances. If you live somewhere and you have a supermarket that is 1.5 kilometres away, you may tend to take the car because it seems so easy. So, we have to find ways to encourage people to leave the car at home and walk or take the bike to the supermarket, for example. Because people have already made an investment in the car, people feel the need to use it as much as possible.

Jenni: We were discussing what has already worked well and there already are so many cities in Finland that are doing a lot for sustainable mobility in their infrastructure, by doing actions such as building new bike paths and creating plans for the future, not only in larger southern cities like Tampere and Helsinki, but also in northern cities like Oulu, which has such a good reputation for giving people the possibility to travel sustainably. Even the smaller cities are quite excited about the topic and even if they have not done so much already, they have created nice plans for the future.

Anni: One thing we should probably add too, is that one of the challenges is how you plan areas. Quite recently, there was research published in Finland about how children move in their daily lives, and how fit they are. What we can see over the years is that children’s fitness is declining and one of the reasons could be the fact that many kids are taken to school by cars these days, especially because schools are more spread out. This has to do with city cross-sectoral planning, infrastructure and ensuring that people can access the things they need.

What do you have in store for the 2023 campaign?

Jenni: Well, I think we were quite excited last year because we got a record number of cities to participate. And, as you know, we already had this topic last year of ‘save energy’ which was a huge topic in all of Finland and people seemed to really like it. So, we are still excited about that and obviously this year will still want to continue because we’ve proved that it works, it’s interesting and it’s really timely. Now we are aiming for even more cities. We want to break the record!

To learn more about EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK and if your town or city participates, click here.

An invisible threat: how sustainable mobility can help reduce noise pollution in cities

4 April 2023

Noise is the second largest environmental health threat in Europe. At least one in every five Europeans is exposed to noise levels that are harmful to their health.

With 20% of the EU population experiencing excessive noise levels, the most disruptive of which come from road, rail and air traffic, sustainable and active mobility offer key solutions to help combat this invisible health hazard.

Cities and towns across Europe struggle with the toll noise pollution takes on residents’ daily lives. Data from the European Environment Agency identifies Paris as one of Europe’s noisiest cities: more than 5.5 million people suffer due to noise that exceeds 55 decibels; 432,000 French residents take tranquillisers to cope with it. Meanwhile, 2.6 million people in London and 1.7 million people in Rome are exposed to disruptive levels of noise.

In addition to the myriad short and long-term health risks exacerbated or created by noise pollution, including increased blood pressure, problems focusing, insomnia and cardiovascular issues, the cost of noise comes with a heavy price tag. A report from CE Delft estimates that the social cost of road traffic noise in Europe is between 30 - 46 billion euros per year, representing approximately 0.4% of total GDP.

So, what is being done to mitigate this unseen threat to our health?

The European Environmental Noise Directive is designed to help cities identify, and reduce, noise pollution levels. Relevant authorities are also encouraged to join the Green City Accord to achieve better compliance with pollution-prevention laws, including the Environmental Noise Directive.

Local and national governments are also developing targeted Noise Plans to address pollution levels, such as Paris’ Plan Bruit which introduced numerous sustainable mobility solutions, including the installation of sound barriers, roadside noise checks and low-noise asphalt. In addition, the plan supports the French capital’s ongoing efforts to minimise car traffic in the city centre and expand cycling networks, while banning the most polluting vehicles.

Sustainable and active mobility solutions are an integral part of less noisy environments. As part of EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK, thousands of towns and cities across Europe have implemented permanent measures that reduce car speeds, especially around school zones, which is also an effective measure for reducing traffic noise. The extension or creation of green areas is another holistic solution to tackle both noise and air pollution, and as part of the campaign, over 3,600 new greenways have been constructed.

While noise pollution may not be the most obvious issue cities have to confront to improve quality of life for residents, it is an important part of people’s daily lives and can significantly impact wellbeing. Sustainable mobility solutions and active mobility choices, such as walking or cycling, can help reduce noise pollution and create environments that are more comfortable to live, work and play in.

Learn more about the impact of the EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK campaign and the permanent measures implemented by participating towns and cities, here.