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Bikes everywhere: Cyclists to rule Finnish cities in 2050

In the future, company cars will likely make way for company bikes and Finland could become a bicycle mecca as two- and three-wheelers of all shapes and sizes take over city streets.

Image: Tommi Pylkkö / Yle

A push toward optimal use of space and greater concern for the environment could see Helsinki become the biking capital of Northern Europe. In a series on the future of transportation, Yle joined forces with students from the Metropolia and Haaga-Helia universities of applied sciences to visualize the rise of the two-wheeler.

In 2050, many Finnish residents will pedal to work at their employers' expense using company bikes. Many of those bikes will be electricity-assisted, making it easier for cyclists to navigate hills, travel longer distances and reach to work without breaking too much of a sweat.

City bikes will be ubiquitous and residents and visitors alike won’t have to trouble themselves with bike ownership – renting a bike for an hour or two will be an everyday experience and few people will contend the hassle of finding a suitable place to park their cars.

Box bikes, folding bikes, company bikes

Special cycles such as box bikes – used for carrying heavier loads or even children – will become a common sight on bike paths. Riders will use them for ferrying sports gear, pets and groceries from place to place.

Cyclists who like to keep their wheels close will invest in folding bikes that they can handily fold up to transition from bike to train or bus and vice versa.

In 2050 and beyond, one in three trips from one place to another will take place on two wheels. In addition to providing bikes for employee use, companies will seek to encourage the riding habit by paying out mileage allowances for distances covered while on work duty.

The benefits for employers are clear – employees who bike to work will stay in better shape, and healthier employees will likely need fewer sick days off work and may be more productive.

Dedicated routes for cyclists and pedestrians

Although in the future winter is still expected to reduce the number of bikes on city streets, a comprehensive unbroken network of bike routes will make it easier for avid bikers to stick to two wheels year-round.

Major cities in particular will ensure that bikers will be able to set off even on snowy mornings, because the paths will be cleared overnight as municipalities commit to at least clearing major cycle tracks of snow and ice.

These routes will also be well-lit to ensure safety and cyclists won’t have to worry about avoiding potholes and manhole covers and the paths will be even and well-maintained.

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In 30 years or so better infrastructure will see many people opt for year-round cycling. Image: Antti Pylväs / Yle

Riders will be able to reach speeds of up to 30 kilometres per hour, even in city centres, as paths will be as straight as possible to shorten and simplify journeys.

Best of all for bikers, they will not have to share tracks with pedestrians, who will have their own dedicated paths to use, making journeys safe for both groups.

Decision-makers will no longer lump bikes together with pedestrians as "light traffic" but will consider them a mode of transportation in their own right. Riders will no longer have to slow down at intersections, because there will be no curbs on bike paths. Moreover, intersections will be clearly marked with signs indicting which lanes to queue in and who has right of way.

More bikes, lower health care costs

In 2050, bikes will be the perfect complement for mass transit systems. People will have the option of beginning or ending their journeys on two wheels and hopping into vehicles with four wheels or more to complete the longest part of the trip.

Finland will follow Denmark’s lead and add bike cars to commuter trains to allow passengers to take their bikes into trains during rush hour. Swapping one mode of transportation for another will be fast, since there will be ample bike parking – covered and well-lit -- near train stations.

The proliferation of self-service stops to attend to flat tyres and the like means that cyclists won’t have to lug around tools in their backpacks.

Municipalities also stand to save from the explosion on bike traffic. Bikes are a cheap and green means of transportation and their health effects will likely reduce the burden on health care services.

This will create a virtuous circle, prompting local decision-makers to earmark more funds for programmes such as building new bike routes, improving security on them and acquiring snow ploughs suitable for use on bike tracks.