Tram Life

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.

helsinki_tram_nyc

Before

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.

helsinki_future_new

After

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.

2) Axed.

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.


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

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https://www.hsl.fi/liikennetiedotteet/2014/yometrokokeilu-paattyy-vuoden-vaihteessa-5923

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?

Tram Life: Kymppi

December 8, 2014

helsinki_tram_nyc

My version of Helsinki’s tram schematic.

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.

P1050197

The 10 near Kirurginen Sairaala.

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.

P1050196

The 10 on its layover at Tarkk’ampujankatu.

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.

P1050199

The 10 in front of St. John’s Church.

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.


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