Opinion article by Indrek Ranniku: Is Tartu already a walking and cycling city?

The opinion article was published by Tartu Postimees on 24/04/2019. This is a short summary, the full Estonian text can be found  here.

Despite the breakthroughs in cycling and pedestrian path planning, we find ourselves in a situation where cyclists make up only 8% of all commuters, while car use has increased from 30% to 46%.

The question posed in the title may be answered with yes. The current warm weather has brought many cyclists – the parking spaces are full and bikes can be seen on every road.  The progress in road reconstruction and building has created new bike paths and connected many vital destinations.

On the other hand, the answer may also be no. We still have many crossroads that are difficult for cyclists to navigate, or a bike lane may be missing altogether.

Some of the more important bike lanes are built with external funding. These have shaped and will continue to shape the transportation choices of people. A few, previously very problematic or unsafe stretches of road have been fixed with so-called domestic funds. It is true that a city is not built in a day but the city’s strategic and long-term ambition to prioritize cycling and pedestrian traffic remains and is not forgotten.

The new Tartu City Strategic Action Plan for Bicycle Traffic 2019-2040 has been compiled and will be published as a part of the new Tartu Sustainable Energy and Climate Action Plan. What will this mean for the city?

The strategic plan is very ambitious. It states that cycling and walking are the most important means of transport and will always be prioritized in city planning. The goal is to increase the proportion of cyclists in the city to 26% by 2040. At the same time, car traffic should drop to 26%. The soon to be opened city-wide bicycle sharing system will help shape this new reality.

In accordance with the goals of the Action Plan and in the framework of the HEAT project, the city government with other local experts have begun creating a light traffic scheme. This planning scheme will create the basis of ensuring that walking or cycling are safe, fast, simple, short, uninterrupted and convenient means of transport, both in terms of daily commuting and also for leisurely or sport purposes.

The underlying principles of the planning scheme are many: the cycling network needs to be improved and well maintained, both commuters and leisurely riders need to be taken into account, shortcuts for cyclists need to be created; a pedestrian and especially children must get to school safely from bus stops, schools need to have enclosed bicycle parks, etc.

However, for the scheme to be truly successful, each citizen is asked to participate in the idea gathering round to help plan new light traffic paths and reconstruct and/or maintain current ones. Everyone can participate via the Tartu city homepage until 21 May.