Tram Life: Ykkönen

August 26, 2014

This is the first part of an ongoing series dedicated to the social and technical underpinnings of the tram network in Helsinki. Phonetic transcriptions will be omitted in this series because with all the street and neighborhood names it would get cray, and let’s be real, y’all don’t care that much.

helsinki_tram_nyc

My version of Helsinki’s tram schematic. Arguably much better looking than the official one.

For the first installment, we’ll be exploring the 1 and its sister the 1A. In Finnish, the 1 is known as Ykkönen. This word is related to the word for “one”, and is akin to referring to a line in English as the n e.g. I’m going to take the 8 home.

The 1 is a strange, vestigial relic of a tram line that harks back to an earlier era in Helsinki’s history. The 1 runs from Käpylä in the north to Kauppatori in the center. Its extension, the 1A, runs from Käpylä to Eira in the southwest. Both have schedules that are largely unintelligible, generally run peak-only with large headways, and do not operate on the weekends. Between Käpylä and Eira the 1 and 1A service the important ridership centers of Kallio and Hakaniemi and continue through Kruununhaka. The 1 and 1A are the light blue dashed line on the map above.

The 1 is not a particularly high-ridership line, owing to (in my opinion) the incomprehensibility of the schedule and the fact that it’s never there when you need it (due to the large headways). Many riders come and go throughout the central portions of the route. When the 1A opens its doors along Tehtaankatu on the southern end of the route a mix of young professionals from Ullanlinna and Punavuori hipsters get on for an easy ride to the center. They’ll filter out somewhere between Kauppatori and Hakaniemi and be replaced the grittier punks and skaters of the traditionally working-class Kallio. By the north end of Kallio the only ones left are the families and young parents on their way back to Käpylä. Käpylä is a strange neighborhood, it’s one of the first instances of the Garden City Movement in Finland which manifests itself as a sparse community of two-story single family homes surrounded by wooded areas. The neighborhood was first designed as a sort of workers’ housing commune in the 1920s, and the alignment of the 1A illustrates to this day the ebb and flow of workers from decades ago.

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The 1A at its layover at Telakkakatu.

Pinned at the other end of the alignment is Eira. An old district of Helsinki, Eira has some of the city’s most expensive apartments and is populated by mostly upper-class urbanites. The 1A skirts the north side of Eira and terminates at the shipyards of Hietalahti. Around the middle of the last century many of the workers who lived in Käpylä found employment at the Hietalahti Shipyards and the 1A was the answer to increased transit demands servicing those two points. However, due to the nature of the commute, the 1A was realized as a unidirectional peak-only service designed to bring workers to the shipyards in the morning and to bring them back home in the evening.

Long gone is the sound of the shipyards’ shift bell, and many of the workers now live elsewhere around the city. Slow to respond to these demographic changes is HSL, the organization responsible for planning and operating transit in the Helsinki area, so the 1 and 1A continue to operate on strange alignments and schedules optimized for commuters who are no longer there. Needless to say, the lines are still used when they make sense for the rider, but these cases are not frequent.

If it were my decision, I would do away with the distinction between the 1A and the 1 and simply label the whole line the 1 and give it an intelligible schedule (similar to the other lines). The one aspect of the 1A that I do like is the crosstown service in Southern Helsinki, so I would maintain the east-west routing through that corridor. The routing would remain the same until Hakaniemi where instead of following the 3 north through Kallio, it would utilize the right-of-way and rail of the old 2 (currently unused) along Toinen Linja with a short extension from Wallininkatu crossing Helsinginkatu and onto Sturenkatu to meet up with the existing 1 routing right around the Urheilutalo stop. Helsinki’s tram network could use some work when it comes to completing the grid, and these changes would provide good crosstown connectivity and transfer options at strategic points throughout the city. Stay tuned for a map of all my proposed changes in the final installment of this series, because I’m sure you’re all waiting on the edge of your seat.


Tram Life 1
Tram Life 2/3
Tram Life 4
Tram Life 6
Tram Life 7
Tram Life 8
Tram Life 9
Tram Life 10
Tram Life