May 4, 2016
So here it is… the end of the road for this blog. In a way, this can be thought of as an obituary, or a long-winded headstone text. There’s something about seeing a blog simply go inactive after a lively stretch of years that saddens me.
The death of a blog, oftentimes, is not signaled by a post like this, but rather by a potential reader stumbling upon it only to notice that the last update was July 2012, or something like that. In my mind, a blog deserves a more auspicious end.
To briefly recap the period of my life in which I haven’t posted, I’ll tell you here. I met a lovely girl named Oona here in Helsinki, and we’ve become taken with one another. That was almost exactly a year ago. Since our meeting, we’ve been talking about traveling quite a bit. Both our plans involved a fair amount of it, so we decided to set off together to discover the world. The one problem was that I wasn’t even half done with school yet, so there was still a substantial obstacle in the way. Over the following year, I put all my effort into finishing my academic responsibilities and have finally done so, just today, in fact. The one remaining task is field work, which I’ll be finishing this summer in Mongolia. Oona will accompany me there, which can be thought of as a brief interlude to our travels rather than a true settling down.
Being that I’ve gotten just about as much use out of this blog’s name as possible, I’ll be closing it down and contributing, jointly, to a new one instead. The new blog, WrongTrainRightPlace.com, will detail Oona’s and my travels over the next several years. So, if you’ve enjoyed the travel aspects of this blog, feel free to follow that one for more of such things.
It’s been real. American Werewolf in Belgrade out.
April 20, 2016
You may have noticed a dramatic decrease in blog posts here over the last year or so. I’ve been quite busy with school and some pretty exciting upcoming plans. This will probably be the last post of real substance to this blog, but Oona and I will be maintaining a new blog (with a more logical name, perhaps) for our upcoming travels. Stay tuned for a redirect to that blog some time in the near future.
The time has come for a bit of a reappraisal of the situation outlined in this blog post from back in 2013. This topic has had the linguistics world abuzz for quite some time with new and pretty compelling research that all languages might not be of the same complexity level.
The non-linguist’s response to this news would probably be something like “duh”, as the whole argument to the contrary was something repeated by people like me time and time again in defense of the “less complex” languages of the world. The refrain was something like “just because English is less morphologically complex than Chechen doesn’t mean it’s less complex overall, just look at the syntax!” The idea of needing to defend the less complex languages of the world is a bit silly to begin with, but for whatever reason most people seem to get a kick out of the idea that their language is more complex than some other one, as if more complex is somehow better.
To make it absolutely clear, this post in no way exonerates the misguided and confused “infographic”, which is the subject of the aforelinked blog post. The rebuttals listed therein still stand, and that infographic is still stupid.
However, my stance on the subject of language complexity overall has been relaxed considerably, due in large part to research such as this (disregard the broken link, I drafted this post a long time ago). Newmeyer and Joseph (2012) outline the extralinguistic considerations of the language complexity debate/consensus over the last hundred-or-so years and conclude (in so many words) that we may have blinded ourselves to the real issue by political correctness. Before I go on, it’s worth mentioning again that writing systems play no part in this particular topic, so the intricacies of a logographic writing system such as Chinese does not contribute to the grammar’s complexity.
There is ample historical evidence that several factors can and do contribute to the simplification of a given language over time. Look no further than English for a case study. English, a Germanic language of Indo-European stock, had morphological case marking at some point during its history. At some point later than that it lost most of that case marking leaving us with what we have today: very few morphological case distinctions and much more importance on the syntax. While its true that the complexity, or functionality, just relocated from the morphology to the syntax, it’s also true that this process facilitated a “cleaning up” of the grammar; a tidying of historical loose ends. Morphological affixes have a tendency of changing, in irregular and sometimes unpredictable ways, themselves and the root word to which they attach. Pulling these affixes off and rendering them as syntactic units themselves typically free both the affix and the root from their affixation-induced stem changes. Clearly there does occasionally remain allomorphic variation within these syntactic units (“a” vs. “an”, for example), but by-and-large the process is a lot cleaner than the mess of stem changes one finds in Finnish, for example.
So why did English lose its cases and become more friendly to the learner? Because a lot of people began learning it as adults all at once (Celts and Scandinavians in England). Morphological and phonological complexity is generally harder to grasp as adults than syntactic complexity. So when you get a huge influx of adult language learners (about 50% of the population, according to Newmeyer and Joesph) learning a complex language, their imperfect grasp of the morphology and/or phonology leads to a leveling of declension paradigms and the more subtle phonological distinctions with a relocation of that complexity into the syntax. Children learning a language don’t pose the same problem because they’re much better at learning language and dealing with the irregularities of it. It’s only when you get a major proportion of a population struggling with the dominant language that you see these changes come about.
With that in mind, it’s typically the more isolated, less influential languages that remain complex and retain their idiosyncrasies. The more adult learners of a language that you have the more likely those changes are to work themselves out. Keep in mind, however, that language is uniquely-suited to describing the world around you. We are all still capable, in any language of the world, to describe anything that we need to describe, in one way or another.
December 17, 2014
Before I’ve completely alienated my normal readership with largely ignorable drivel about a weird passion for public transport, I’m going to post one last analysis tying the Tram Life series together. Over the past few months the most dedicated of you learned about the different lines that comprise the tram network here in my new home of Helsinki. You’ve likely gleaned that I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with it as well. There are aspects of it that are very well-maintained and -designed, but there is also a lot of it that could use some work. If there’s one thing more upsetting than a poorly-functioning public transport system, it’s a system whose great potential is squandered by poor design.
Coming from Seattle, I’m no stranger to the difficulties of a transit system struggling to meet the demands of a rapidly-growing population. It’s common for smaller transit systems to allocate all their service hours into lines that go straight into the city center. However, the larger the system (and city) becomes, the less likely it is for everybody to want to go straight to the center and the more unwieldy such a radial system becomes. New areas outside the core of the city will pop up offering not only new residential and employment areas but also social venues and cultural amenities. These new neighborhoods will need transit access not only to the city center, but also to the other neighborhoods. Without forcing people to travel through the city center to get from one neighborhood to an adjacent neighborhood, the only way to solve this problem is with a grid. Replacing a radial network with a grid network brings about all sorts of benefits, but it also takes a tremendous amount of political will in that it requires making a lot of people temporarily upset (until they learn the power and pleasure of grids, of course) that they no longer have a one-seat-ride to the city center. Making a transfer isn’t the end of the world, and in many ways, doing so is the only way to improve the system as a whole. The more frequent your lines run the less of a pain making a transfer is, but this is a bit of a catch-22 since you can’t make your lines more frequent without forcing people to make a transfer first. In a way it requires telling your ridership to trust in the agency; even though change is scary, things will be better. This leap of faith is the hard part, but things get better once the grid is in place. Look at any of the top transit systems in the world and you’ll see grids: The Paris Metro (arguably the best-designed metro system in the world), the New York Subway, the London Underground, the Vancouver bus system.
It’s with this principle in mind that I’ve made my proposed changes to Helsinki’s tram system. By redesigning the lines such that they don’t all feed directly into the center, we’re able to reuse those service hours by increasing frequency in the rest of the system (thereby easing the transfers that need to be made) to improve overall accessibility dramatically.
The map above is the system as it currently is. There’s clearly a strong focus on the city center (the mess of lines between Rautatieasema and Hakaniemi) and a whole lot of overlapping service (the multiple lines stacked next to each other pretty much everywhere else). In fact, there’s only one route in the entire system which doesn’t get close to the city center for any of its alignment, and that’s the 8 (no wonder it’s my favorite route). The next map is the redesigned network taking into account the proposed changes I’ve made over the course of this series.
As you can see, a lot fewer lines in the center and a lot fewer lines stacked next to each other overall. Impressionistically we begin to see the emergence of more of a grid too, with lines crossing over each other at high angles in more places. It’s telling that we end up with fewer lines while still maintaining service on all currently-serviced corridors. Following is a list of the proposed changes ordered by line:
1) In addition to doing away with the 1/1A distinction and changing the line from peak-only to all-day, the 1 follows the currently-unused right-of-way from Hakaniemi through the west side of Kallio (requiring a couple hundred meters of new track) after which it meets up with its existing alignment near Alppila. The north end of the line is extended several hundred meters to Käpylan Asema to provide a transfer point with long-distance and commuter trains.
3) The 2 and 3 have been liberated from their heinous figure-8 over the city center. The 2 is no more and the 3 starts at Kaivopuisto but instead of turning right onto Bulevardi toward the city center it runs along new rails on Frederikinkatu to Kamppi before meeting up with the 2’s previous alignment. Instead of proceeding back toward the city center through Kallio the 3 terminates at the Sörnäinen Metro Station.
4) Largely in-tact, but live-looped in Katajanokka via several hundred meters of new track to serve both the ferry terminal and the residential areas. This allows us to get rid of the 4/4T distinction.
6) The 6/6T distinction is done away with and the terminal is moved from Länsiterminaali to Hernesaari in the south.
7) The 7 has been freed from its infernal loop. Its northern segment is largely the same, now terminating at Meilahti in the west and Sörnäinen Metro Station in the east.
8) The 8 now serves Kalasatama instead of Arabia via several hundred meters of new track.
9) The 9, in its sanctified harmony, is completely unchanged.
10) The 10 in the south is extended to cross the 1/3 alignment on Tehtaankatu towards the shore. In the north it is extended a few hundred meters to Huopalahti for a transfer point with long-distance and commuter trains.
In addition to the architectural changes to the tram network, some easy branding changes could be done to better integrate the commuter trains with the urban transport system. The commuter trains are super frequent all day and provide a very quick and easy trip from the city center to Pasila and beyond. Advertising them as such and making it very easy to find out which platform the next train is leaving from could make this a much more user-friendly experience. Providing an additional heavy (commuter) rail service that doesn’t go to the city center (oh, the humanity!) following the heavy rail alignment west from somewhere before Huopalahti to east beyond Käpyla would really fill out the grid in the northern portion of the city as well.
It’s unfortunate that the city’s need for better mobility often comes second to maintaining the status quo for lack of political and social wherewithal, but that seems to be the reality in most cities. Perhaps somewhere down the line Helsinki will be able to better-utilize its current infrastructure and unify, rather than divide, its different modes into a cohesive transport solution.
December 17, 2014
Just as I thought the future was looking bright for public transport in Finland’s capital region, it has been announced that the approximately year-long exercise in (very minimal) night service for the Helsinki Metro is coming to a close and will not be continued. They cite high cost and low ridership as contributing factors for their decision.
The Helsinki Metro hardly even qualifies to be called evening service. Before Yömetro its last run was at ~23:30 (!) every day of the week. Yömetro’s meager improvement extended the service hours to 01:30 (wow! /s) on only Fridays and Saturdays. This increase, woefully inadequate as it was, was lauded by me and participators-in-all-things-happening-at-night across the region as a huge mobility asset. While its anemic augmentation didn’t typically help me get home at the end of the night, it at least helped me get to where I was going.
Night service can be a touchy subject. There are very few systems around the world in which night ridership even remotely approaches day ridership. It’s a subsidy; money spent on lifeline services to keep the city accessible to those who need it. A transit system’s goal, however, is not necessarily to justify all of its runs with crush-loaded ridership. While such a system is vastly more efficient, it misses much of what the population wants, not least of which is the chance of a car-free life.
While admittedly the ridership of the later runs of the Helsinki Metro was not staggering, it was far from deficient and even fairly impressive in many ways. The long headways made for some pretty serious crowds piling on to each run. Most of the riders were in no hurry and just happy to be able to wait inside, shielded from the elements.
This announcement marks the second piece of bad news for public transit in Helsinki in only a matter of days. Not long ago it was announced that the long-maligned automation project for the Helsinki Metro was being scrapped as well (several million euros in the hole at this point). Once automated, the Metro’s operation would have been much cheaper and I was hopeful that more night service was on the horizon. Unfortunately now we’re back to square one: A huge investment, expensive operation, lack of proper integration, and hours of operation more akin to a commuter rail line than an urban transport system.
I’ve long been a staunch supporter of the Metro system here, but in the wake of all these complications I’m wondering if the city would have been better off with something lighter to begin with. What say you, Stockholm?
December 8, 2014
We’re almost done with the series after today’s post on the 10. The 10, along with the 4 (and technically the 7, but for reasons discussed here we’ll ignore that) make up the high frequency north-south corridor through the west side of the city. This is a good example of where all that duplicative service I was slamming on isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While it’d be great to have a grade-separated metro line following this alignment, that costs a lot, so joining the 4 and the 10 into a 3-minute-headway trunk between the city center and Töölön Tulli is a pretty decent alternative. Helsinki’s geography splits access from the city center into two corridors, the eastern corridor is serviced by the Metro, and the western corridor is serviced by the 4/10 trunk. While not nearly as high capacity as the Metro, it does a good job of getting people up and down the west side of the city.
The 10 starts in the relatively sleepy northern edge of Ullanlinna on the southern side of the city which it connects via a dedicated alignment to the city center. From there it links up with the 4 and the 7 all the way through both Etu and Taka Töölö to Töölön Tulli where it splits from the 4 and continues north through Ruskeasuo to Pikku Huopalahti. It’s one of the only true north-south lines in the city, so it has excellent transfer points to both the Metro and the east-west 8. Much of its alignment follows the main thoroughfare of Mannerheimintie on which it has dedicated center-running right-of-way.
The 10 lacks an identity on its own, however, it shares not only the 4’s alignment but also its responsibility of being Töölö’s tram. Before meeting up with the 4 it provides crucial and frequent connectivity to the outlying residential centers north of Töölö, once within Töölö it’s just another way of getting into town. It doesn’t run particularly late, but if you’re going somewhere on the west side of the city the 10 is a pretty good bet to take you there. It’s also a pretty well-designed route, and for HSL’s silly insistence on running every possible transport route directly in front of the Central Railway Station I commend them for leaving the 10 as is and allowing it to continue unhindered to the south side of the city.
Two simple and relatively cheap changes could make the 10 a much more useful line than it already is. First, extending the line just a few blocks north to the Huopalahti Railway Station would be a massive transfer point for not only commuter and long-distance train passengers but also for the hugely-popular BRT-like regional 550 bus. Second, extending the line a few blocks south to cross over the 1 and the 3 to finish up at Meritori on the shore would provide a great east-west transfer point for the southern edge of the city as well.
Stay tuned for a final (and riveting) installment summarizing all the proposed changes so far.
November 30, 2014
For the penultimate segment of Tram Life we’ll be covering the 9. The 9 runs through some of Helsinki’s most iconic areas, including my personal favorite alignment along Porthaninkatu in the heart of Kallio. There’s something about a tram running up a hill that really does it for me. The grade of Porthaninkatu isn’t steep enough to require any sort of fancy traction techniques, but it’s steep enough to call a hill. The road’s surface is still the original cobblestone variety which makes for a very charming little segment, if you’re into that sort of thing.
The 9 is really a lovely line. It’s not my favorite line overall (the 8 takes the cake in that regard), but it provides a lot of good connectivity and part of it runs on my favorite (very short) alignment in the system. The 9 starts at Pasila station and can be thought of as providing infill service in a north-south manner from Pasila. It runs through the densely-populated neighborhoods to the east of the heavy rail mainline a bit south of Pasila until it hits Kallio. It turns briefly onto Helsinginkatu and again onto Kaarlenkatu where it joins the 1 and the 3 before heading down the south slope of Kallio via Porthaninkatu where it joins the 6 and the 7 at Hakaniemi Metro station. It continues through the center of town passing Rautatieasema and continuing along with the 2 just south of the Kamppi shopping center. Beyond Kamppi it splits away from the 2 and services the weird no-man’s-land south of Kamppi but north of Bulevardi before joining up with the 6T at Hietalahti and providing all-day service to the ferry terminal at Länsiterminaali.
The 9 is a bit of a hybrid. Its identity is split between the major population centers it serves. From Länsiterminaali to the city center it’s packed with Finns coming back from Estonia lugging crates of beer (the alcohol is much cheaper in Estonia, so most Finns take weekend trips and stock up). On the other side of the center it’s a serious contender for Kallio’s tram (if that title wasn’t already taken by the 8). With its late runs and central alignment it shuttles partygoers and day drinkers alike through central Kallio. Finally, its northern segment is a no-frills connection that carries travelers getting off long-distance trains at Pasila to their flats in Alppila and northern Kallio. The 9 is probably the best-anchored line in the system, but some points are taken off by the irregular nature of the ferry schedules. With a whole host of other high-traffic destinations along the alignment, when a ferry is docked the 9 is packed from start to finish and is relied on by a huge number of riders.
The 9 is the only route in the system that I wouldn’t change at all. Much like the 6 it runs along with duplicative service for a fair amount of its route, but also like the 6 it’s the best-suited to service those areas, so instead of changing it, my proposal changes the duplicative service leaving the 9 as it is. With a huge amount of money it would be wise to extend the 9 north from Pasila to the Ilmala train station on the west side of the main line, but that’s certainly not a pressing issue and not likely to happen any time soon.
November 5, 2014
In this installment we will cover Kallio’s lifeline: The 8. Some people might say the 8 doesn’t run through Kallio at all, and perhaps they’d favor the 3 or the 9 as Kallio’s tram. I respectfully disagree with this view for a few simple reasons. First and foremost, nowhere else in Helsinki is drunken depravity as commonplace as on the 8 in the middle of the day. Second, the 8’s alignment and service corridor make pretty much the entirety of Kallio in its walkshed. The 8 is a lone and desperately-needed crosstown service north of the city center (but south of the 7), so any time anybody in Kallio needs to travel to the northwest quarter of the city the 8 is their only option. The Kalliolainen, more than anybody else in Helsinki, has been largely successful at shaking off metrophobia and embracing the Metro as the quickest and easiest route to the city center. Since the walkshed of Hakaniemi and Sörnäinen cover the entirety of center-bound trips from Kallio, most other trips are best served by the 8. Thus we arrive at why the 8 is Kallio’s tram.
The 8 is the dark purple route on the map above making its way all the way from Arabianranta in the northeast, via a crosstown alignment through the north side of Kallio along Helsinginkatu, through the heart of Töölö, providing a bit of infill service before the Ruoholahti Metro station, and finally to the new residential developments on Jätkäsaari in the southwest.
The 8 is an extremely popular route. Between the riders heading from Arabia into town, or the ones coming from Kallio heading to Töölö or Ruskeasuo, or the ones going from Töölö to Ruoholahti the tram is almost always full. The tail on Jätkäsaari is the only empty portion of it these days, but that will change once people start moving into the new housing there. Providing such crucial east-west service, the most popular stretch of the route is between Sörnäinen and Ooppera with a huge influx of riders at each stop looking for a quick connection to the other side of town. This stretch is also home to some of Kallio’s most (in)famous bars, many of which cater to the daytime drinkers (read: alcoholics) roaming the streets of Helsinki in search of a quick fix. When the weather gets colder many of these people hop on the 8 to either kill time while shielded from the elements or to get from one bar to another. It’s best not to make eye contact.
Interestingly, not only is this line numbered the same as Metro’s #8 in Seattle, but both routes provide the only crosstown service immediately north of the city center. As such, the routes are crucial pieces to the complete transit picture in both cities. There isn’t much I would change about the 8, but an easy win is changing the terminal from Arabianranta (which it shares with the 6) to Kalasatama. Kalasatama doesn’t currently have surface rail, so this would require a substantial infrastructure investment, but the area is being rapidly developed and plans to house thousands of new residents within the next decade are in the works so installing this infrastructure is already on the horizon for HSL. Start the new 8 at the south end of Kalasatama and run it through the dense new housing developments to the Kalasatama Metro station, then run it west to meet up with its existing alignment starting at Sörnäinen.
October 19, 2014
In the wee hours of the morning on Saturday I was walking home from the bar and I walked by a middle-aged woman crying at the bus stop. I sat down and asked her what was wrong. She was hesitant to tell me about it at first and had a sort of a “it’s not worth it” attitude (which is to be expected, really), but the more I persisted the more she opened up.
She had quit her job recently (the nature of which was not specified, but it was clear she didn’t like it very much) and didn’t really have anything else lined up. I sat and talked with her for 10 or 15 minutes while she was waiting for her bus, she thought I was trying to pick her up but I assured her that I just wanted to help.
When her bus came we hugged and said goodbye, she said “thank you forever, I’m really happy that you waited with me.” She was scared and alone, and my presence didn’t offer her any sort of financial security, the likes of which it sounds like she’s in need, but the element of human interaction that I offered hopefully made a positive impact on her life in one way or another.
If you see somebody crying, stop and talk to them. Chances are they need you.
October 13, 2014
Today we’ll be covering the 7. The 7 is the orange circular route on the map above. The 7, like the 6, is duplicative for much of its alignment, and where it’s not it’s a milk-run of epic proportions. I don’t know who thought the 7 would be a good use of service hours, but pretty much everything about this line is negative. However, as much as I’d like to axe the entire thing, it does provide much-needed crosstown connectivity through Pasila.
Technically the 7 is two routes: the 7A and the 7B, but these letter distinctions serve only to identify clockwise or counterclockwise running, and I would bet that only a very small percentage of the population can remember which letter corresponds to which direction. In its current manifestation, the 7 starts (or ends, depending on your perspective) at the Pasila train station. Pasila is on the main-line a few kilometers north of the central station and its a very popular destination for riders coming in on long-distance or commuter trains. From Pasila, the 7 continues clockwise toward Sörnäinen where it starts following the 6 towards the city center. It turns east through Kruununhaka along the 1’s alignment until Senaatintori where it turns west to follow Aleksanterinkatu back through the city center. It then follows the 4 and the 10 along Mannerheimintie before splitting off on its own towards Pasila again. The 7’s alignment through Länsi Pasila is an abomination of direct transit service. Inexplicably the line heads north for about 1km only to abruptly turn and head south again for about 500m a block east, not stopping a single time. This baffling alignment serves a couple of stops that would otherwise not be served, but none of them seem to be particularly high ridership. The jig results in a couple of lost minutes and a handful of riders who otherwise would have had to walk a few more blocks.
Nobody takes the 7 very seriously. It can’t claim to be anybody’s tram on the basis that just about everywhere in the city is better served by some other line, so instead it lumbers along its route picking up the abandoned, destitute riders who narrowly missed their preferred ride and drops them off somewhere farther from their destination than they’d like. If you actually want to take the 7 and miss your direction on a cold day when you have about an hour to burn you could settle for getting on in the opposite direction and count on eventually getting to your destination, but that’s not a particularly high-value use case either.
Unfortunately there’s not much that can be done to fix this mess and yield anything of much value without an incredible investment in new infrastructure. The clearest winner of redesigning the 7 is simply regaining service hours that can be used elsewhere. By removing the southern half of the loop altogether and anchoring the western end at Meilahden Sairaala and the eastern end at Sörnäinen Metro station we still service the otherwise-empty east-west corridor north the city center while providing decent crosstown connectivity to the huge ridership generator that is Pasila station. This will definitely cause people to lose a one-seat-ride to the city center, but if they’re getting on anywhere where the 7 is the only service they’d be much better off either transferring to the commuter rail at Pasila or the Metro at Sörnäinen for a quick ride into the center. Again this would require some work to overcome the transfer- and metrophobia here in Helsinki, but by removing one-seat-rides from here we can cost-neutrally increase frequency elsewhere which is a good thing for everybody.
September 21, 2014
The 6 is an exercise in duplicative service. For pretty much the entirety of its route (the gray line on the map above), with the exception of a few blocks between Hietalahti and Frederikinkatu, it runs in parallel with at least one other service. The 6, like the 4, also has a T variant which extends service to the ferry terminal on Jätkäsaari when there is a ferry leaving or arriving.
At its northeastern extent, the 6 starts in Arabia (the neighborhood in Helsinki, that is, named after the Arabia ceramics company). It runs along with the 8 until Sörnäinen where it then follows the Metro, along with the 7, into the center of town. From there, it continues along with the 3 east-west through Punavuori via Bulevardi where it finally splits off for a brief moment of solitude before meeting up with the 9 shortly after Hietalahti (if it’s a 6T) or simply turning around at the turnback loop in Hietalahti (if it’s not). Before we go on, I’ll talk a little bit about duplicative service and why, in general, it should be avoided. In and of itself, duplicative service adds capacity in the form of more vehicles per hour on a particular segment. Increased capacity isn’t bad, of course, but duplicative service tends to be an unintended product of a radial network attempting to serve every neighborhood with a one-seat-ride to the city center. The reasons for this are fairly evident in that, in a radial network, the closer the services get to the center, the more likely they are to use the same rights of way (due to geographic constraints). This is especially true in tram networks when rights of way require infrastructure expenses like rails and overhead current delivery. On the other hand, many transit networks around the world use well-designed duplicative service to cater to increased demand along select segments. It’s when duplicative service is there because of a desire to give everyone a one-seat-ride to wherever they need to go that it becomes problematic. At that point, it’s a waste of service hours and capacity that could be better-utilized elsewhere.
Helsinki has, or rather, the citizens of Helsinki have, a problem. They’re distrustful and suspicious of the Metro. Let’s call it Metrophobia. For whatever reason, the average Helsinkiläinen would much rather take a tram to where they need to go than venture into the depths of the earth beneath Helsinki for a quick ride across town. I’m not sure what the reason behind this is. It could be the quagmire that was the initial planning and construction of the Metro, or it could be resentment that Helsinki built such a heavy system when a lighter system could have been built to serve more areas, or it could have been a variety of things. Whatever the reason, it results in leaving much of the considerable capacity of the Metro unused. Don’t get it twisted, it’s not like nobody at all uses the Metro, but it only somewhat approaches full capacity during rush hour and that’s not even on anything close to the shortest headways. I’ve spoken with a number of folks in the Helsinki area about this, and they certainly know that the Metro is quicker, but they consider the trams more “cozy”, or just a more welcoming environment for some reason. In researching this post, I rode the 6 from Arabia into the center of town to observe the ebb and flow of riders over the course of the route. A lot more riders got on than off at Sörnäinen. The 6 has a transfer point to the Metro at Sörnäinen (and it’s where the 6 starts running parallel with the Metro), and I timed the trip from there to the city center at a leisurely 13.5 minutes (which can be easily extended by a few unlucky light cycles). I then took the same trip by Metro, including travel time to and from the platform and average wait time, and it clocked in at 8.5 minutes. That’s a five minute time savings by giving up the one-seat-ride and making a transfer, and that’s not even considering the people who start their trip in Sörnäinen. To be clear, the problem I have here isn’t the alignment of the 6, it’s the fact that people are quicker to wait the five minute average wait time of the 6 in addition to the actual trip time for a grand total of almost 20 minutes to the city center when literally right beneath their feet is a train making the trip in less than half the time. How do we get people to embrace the Metro as the fastest and most reliable mode of transit from northeast to southwest through the center? That’s more a marketing question than a technical one, but a good start would be removing the other options, the current number of which is astonishing. From Sörnäinen to Hakaniemi there are two tram lines following the exact same alignment as the Metro, from Hakaniemi to Kaisaniemi there are essentially five, from Kaisaniemi to Rautatientori three, and from Rautatientori to Kamppi two. That’s a lot of service hours that could be put to much better use on alignments that don’t already have trains four times the length running at less than half the headways at twice the speed on grade-separated right of way right beneath them. Just Sayin’.
Interestingly, with all the talk of duplicative service above, the 6’s alignment remains largely unchanged after my proposed edits. It provides important mobility as infill service between the Metro stations outside the center, and in many cases it makes more sense to move other service to different corridors to complete the grid. In fact, the only changes that the 6 does undergo in my design is (a) removing the 6/6T distinction (which is no surprise, given how I feel about such things) and changing the terminus from Länsiterminaali in the south to Hernesaari. Hernesaari is currently being built out for more residential space and will shortly be in desperate need of increased transit capacity. This extension will require new rail, but it provides a number of great transfer points for a huge increase in overall mobility. This change is actually one that HSL is planning to do in the future as well, so we have that to look forward to at least.