Car centric urbanisation or motorization is the scientifically measured result of poor urban planning, not an inevitable phenomenon — in Estonia or elsewhere

Tallinn is currently planning for an increase of 450 to 650 cars per 1,000 residents. These are figures that have been written into municipal road projects.

In Helsinki, the number of vehicles currently stands at 350 cars per 1,000 residents; that number is even lower in the city centre. Similarly to Tallinn, Helsinki’s population is likewise growing, and the city also sees a daily influx of people who travel into town to work, both from surrounding municipalities and from further away.

All of these cars cannot be accommodated, to park or to drive. Not in any city. This growth in vehicular traffic benefits no one. A reduction in the number of cars in town would benefit even drivers themselves, as it would mean improved traffic flows for everyone.

Thanks to the efforts of its city government, the number of cars in Helsinki is continuing to drop. One tenth of the city’s population currently gets around by bike; with the help of EU funding, this figure is expected to increase to one in five within the next few years. Seven percent of Oslo residents, 15 per cent of Stockholm residents and more than 60 percent of Copenhagen residents also cycle. Bottlenecks exist in each of these cities, including islands, bridges and narrow streets.

Motorization is not inevitable or natural. The growth of car traffic is a scientifically measured phenomenon known as induced demand. This means that if roadways are built to increase only vehicular capacity, the number of cars on the road will increase as well, thus failing to ease congestion. By the same token, building more sidewalks and cycle tracks and developing public transport will lead to an increase in the number of pedestrians and cyclists as well as increased public transport ridership, easing congestion as a result as well. This phenomenon has been demonstrated time and time again elsewhere in Europe and beyond. Among others to write about this scientifically measured phenomenon is former Harvard associate professor and current MIT associate professor of urban science and planning Andres Sevtšuk.

In other words, cars aren’t actually a religion as is often said in Estonia: no functional alternative simply exists in Tallinn, as that is how the city government has designed our city. The issue is a serious one in international comparison as well: Tallinn is the city undergoing the most rapid segregation in Europe, and motorization in the Estonian capital remains on the rise at a rate of 5 per cent per year. When families have no choice but to spend up to 30 per cent of their income on a vehicle, we can see that the absence of a quality cycle network and public transport serves to further exacerbate existing inequalities.