Torontoist's Emily Macrae looks
at how the Finnish city of Oulu keeps its citizens biking during winter. As always, planning is key.
With fewer than seven hours of sunlight a day at this time of year, Oulu is an unlikely leader in winter cycling. Timo Perälä discovered that his hometown’s approach was unique while doing research into winter maintenance of cycling routes for his thesis more than 15 years ago.
Since that time, Oulu has gained an international reputation for its efforts to facilitate active transportation in the winter. Today, 27 per cent of the population are active cyclists all year long, while Perälä has become the founder and president of the Winter Cycling Federation.
So what’s the secret to ensuring that people choose to bike regardless of the weather?
First, Oulu has an enviable cycling network that extends 613 kilometers to connect a population of 200,000. For comparison, Toronto has 579.4 kilometers of on-street cycling infrastructure for a population more than 10 times as large.
Oulu’s bike lanes are the result of decades of municipal leadership. The city’s first cycling plan was developed in 1969. In an email, Perälä explains: “It was understood early that walking and cycling [have] to be treated as equal modes of transportation.”