I don’t particularly like Espoo – not an entirely uncommon sentiment from a person living in Helsinki. Anyway, this second largest city in Finland has the feeling of big suburb, spread out in a shotgun manner all over the map. After some years commuting (by mass transit) to Espoo for work, I’ve noticed the following deficiencies in the city:
- The mass transit system and pedestrian walkability are terrible – the city has obviously been designed for car users only, which is simply environmentally and otherwise unsustainable. More about the transport below.
- The areas around the train stations – which should be heavily populated as they’re next to the most efficient form of mass transport there is – often consist of fields or crummy old factories or logistical centers inhabited by hundreds of semis. What horrible planning.
- The areas around the train stations are just one symptom of overall poor city planning – despite being the 2nd largest city in the country, the LeppÃ¤vaara area is about the only area that feels like anything resembling a city, with the maze-like Tapiola a runner-up. Most areas are largely sparsely populated and inefficiently planned with no life – like the curiously ironically named “Espoon Keskus”. It’s amazing how much farmland and forest can sit so close to the capital city. The ludicrously high plot prices in the area therefore have nothing to do with the unavailability of land itself.
- An environmental impact study was made of the planned Hista area – when the report produced some unfavorable results, Espoo declared it secret. How’s that for open government?
Like I mentioned, the mass transit system in particular is badly broken. Here’s how:
- The few train stations that there are – there’s a single line going through the city – are in a crappy condition and infrequently serviced.
- There are basically no bus lanes anywhere, which means the buses also stop when there’s a traffic jam. That means there are fewer incentives for people to use buses – if they ran faster than other traffic during critical rush hours, that alone would be a powerful incentive.
- The buses are often late or don’t show up at all (partly due to the above, I’m sure). Another big disincentive to using them.
- To add to that problem, they run very sparsely. Departures every 20min on a single line is already considered a very frequently operated line in Espoo.
- The buses don’t have right-of-way or optimizations at traffic lights.
- The buses are of very varying condition and upkeep. Some are decent enough while some are $hitty.
Another curios factor is that one would think the recently designed & built areas would be better-served with public transportation, but no.
Given all this, it’s no wonder people rely on cars in Espoo – they have to. Let’s see if they’re all so wealthy that they can easily absorb the coming $200/barrel oil prices..