Riding to school in the snow

It is not the cold that stops kids from riding to school but the lack of safe infrastructure. All parents are concerned about their children’s safety. In Finland, children will ride to school on snow in subzero all year round. Clearly, the cold does not hold them back. Without a separated bike path and swept bike paths, it would not happen.

What makes it work so well is good infrastructure that can be relied upon and is safe enough even for children. The infrastructure should cater to the needs of everybody, from 8 to 80 years, not just the athletic, daring and able.

Photo by Tetyana Kovyrina on Pexels.com

Despite undeniably brutal winters – on the February evening when I arrive on the train from Helsinki, Finland’s capital city, it is −16°C, and the mercury never goes above −6°C when I am there – about 20 per cent of all journeys in the city are made by bike. This is a year-round average and in winter the figure does understandably fall somewhat. Even so, during my visit, cyclists are still a routine sight, crunching serenely along the cycle paths, or at least what I presume are cycle paths hidden underneath the several inches of flattened snow.

Walker, Peter. The Miracle Pill (p. 236). Simon & Schuster UK. Kindle Edition.

‘There’s a long tradition of cycling here. But we also have a long tradition of planning for cycling.’2 This includes many years of constructing safe bike routes away from the motor traffic, whether entirely separated lanes or the shared use of a wide pavement. As Vartiainen points out, bike lanes simply painted onto the road will not work in a city where they would be invisible below the snow for several months a year. The bike routes are also, like the roads, ploughed after every new snowfall. Rather than scraping back to the tarmac, the ploughs smooth the snow flat, adding grooves for extra traction. This might sound counterintuitive, but as long as the temperature remains below freezing, it creates a remarkably grippy surface, and the bulk of Joensuu’s cyclists ride with normal tyres,

Walker, Peter. The Miracle Pill (p. 237). Simon & Schuster UK. Kindle Edition.

In the case of the primary school I visit, about a quarter of pupils cycle year-round, teachers tell me.

Walker, Peter. The Miracle Pill (p. 237). Simon & Schuster UK. Kindle Edition.

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