What is the solution to traffic jams in Belgrade? – Helsinki’s example

Traffic in Belgrade – everywhere you turn there are crowds and collapse! Some will blame road works or weather conditions, but the answer to the question “Why is it so difficult to move around Belgrade?” is a bit more complex.

With a population of almost 1.7 million, the Belgrade region is one of the 20 largest cities in Europe. According to the latest Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (SUMP), which was written based on data from 2015, Belgrade residents make an average of 1.9 trips per day. Almost half of these trips are made by public transport, while the other two quarters are made by private car and on foot. The use of other modes of transport, such as bicycles and scooters, is negligible, standing at only 1%.

Public transport users mainly rely on the bus network, while rail passenger transport systems, such as trams and two urban railway lines, are responsible for transporting a small segment of the total number of inhabitants (about 3% of total daily trips made). Belgrade is thus one of the few European metropolises that do not have high-capacity rail systems that can transport tens of thousands of people from one end of the city to another.

Bicycle paths

In addition to these shortcomings in public transportation, Belgrade has only about 100 km of bicycle paths, which is far below other European cities of similar size. For example, Vienna, as a city of similar size to Belgrade, has over 1600 km of bicycle paths, while Helsinki has over 1300 km, and those paths cover the entire city. By comparison, even the much smaller Ljubljana has a cycling path grid of over 300 km, and like other European capitals, continues to develop this type of infrastructure further.

In addition to the lack of adequate infrastructure for bicycle traffic, there is also the problem of parking, which affects not only car drivers but also other road users, primarily pedestrians.

As a result of all these and many other factors, Belgrade is known for its traffic jams and all road users are dissatisfied with the functioning of the system.

What Belgrade can learn from Helsinki

For comparison, let’s take Helsinki, the capital of Finland. Helsinki is similar in size to Belgrade, with a population of approximately 1.5 million. From that aspect, it belongs to a similar category of European metropolises, which are not as big as Paris or Berlin, and yet not as small as Ljubljana or Bratislava.

Of course, when it comes to the topic of traffic, the main differences between Belgrade and Helsinki are in topography and climate. The highest point of Helsinki is an artificial hill that is only about 90 metres high, and flat surfaces are generally easier when it comes to organizing traffic. However, what Belgrade “loses” in terms of topography and hilly terrain, it compensates with its continental climate and the length of the day, because for a large part of the year, Helsinki’s average temperature is lower and the day is shorter.

The average resident of Helsinki makes more trips per day than the average resident of Belgrade, with 3.5 trips per person per day, while the average individual trip lasts 24 minutes. Compared to Belgrade, almost 10% of trips in Helsinki are made by bicycle. Also, public transport here is often branded as one of the best in the world, both from the perspective of users and from the perspective of impact on society and the environment.

Subway as a turning point

A historical turning point in the development of Helsinki was the construction of a subway line from the city centre to the east, which was commissioned n 1982. The subway was subsequently extended to the western part of the region, with 8 new stations opened in 2017 in the first phase, and another 5 new stations opened in the second phase, in 2022.

In addition to the subway, public transport includes buses and trams, but also a large number of urban railway lines, which serve a large number of radial movements from the periphery of the region. There is also a ferry line to the island of Suomenlinna, while a new orbital light rail line is opening soon.

The development of the city is not only based on the development of rail systems and bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure but is also closely related to spatial planning. New construction is most often located around rail transport stations, with increased population density and a variety of services, from kindergartens and schools to health and cultural institutions. This allows the population not only to access diverse public amenities but also preserves the city’s green areas, which have multiple purposes.

In the last few years, following global trends, Helsinki has developed more transport modes on its streets. Since 2016, there has been a city bike rental system, while since 2019, electric scooters, electric bicycles, but also other forms of micro-mobility, such as electric unicycles and skateboards, can be seen on the streets of Helsinki. In addition to these types of micro-mobility modes, there are more options for renting vehicles for shorter periods of time and more options for taxis and similar services.

Overall, Helsinki is a good example of a multimodal city – meaning a city where residents have an ample choice of transport modes. In other words, the average resident of Helsinki is not forced to drive a car or use the bus all the time but can choose and combine different modes of transportation according to their needs at a given moment.

The main lesson that Helsinki has for Belgrade is that a strategic perspective is needed on the development of the city and the transport system. Such a strategic perspective requires long-term thinking.

According to the relevant strategy, Helsinki strives to become carbon-neutral by 2030, and even carbon-negative after 2040. In order to achieve these goals, Helsinki plans further development of pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, infrastructure for rail transport, but also restrictive measures for the use of cars, in the form of a parking strategy and the abolition of street lanes for cars. These changes open the door to a wider change of urban space, such as increasing green areas, and further preserving the general social well-being in Finland.

Such goals, strategies, plans and initiatives are not unattainable in Belgrade. Infrastructural change, hand in hand with the development of institutions that can plan the creation of a multimodal city, can result in traffic in Belgrade no longer being associated with congestion and collapses, but a part of a sustainable city with healthy and happy residents.

(Vreme, Klima 101, 11.06.2023)


This post is also available in: Italiano

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