Welcome to the Low Line, Helsinki

Posted 08/02/12 by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy in America's Trails

Photo © Yves Zsutty

They're calling it the "Low Line"--a friendly comparison to New York's now very famous High Line--a 1.1-mile trail through the heart of Helsinki set deep in a gorge carved out a century ago to carry freight trains.

Opened in June of this year, the Baana cycleway almost immediately became the second-busiest non-motorized pathway in the city, giving pedestrians and cyclists a world of their own travel from the Western Harbour area to Kamppi and the Töölö Bay. Approximately 5,000 cyclists travel daily through the ravine.

In addition to the end points, four ramps and five staircases connect the cycleway with street level. Accessible entrances are placed at both ends and in the middle of the course. Inside, there are 180 trees, 4,000 bushes and dozens of flowerbeds. The city has made every effort to make the Baana an attractive place to be, installing lights, benches and art, as well as basketball, table tennis and petanque facilities.

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy heard about this great new development in Helsinki from the trail manager for the city of San Jose, Calif., Yves Zsutty. On a recent trip to Helsinki, Zsutty spent some time studying the Baana and what his city, which is following its own very ambitious trail plans, could learn for this unique facility.

"There are a number of success factors here that we might seek to replicate in the U.S.," he says. "Primarily, a large, interconnected network of on-street and off-street bike facilities supports greater usage of bicycles as primary transportation. Bicycles are everywhere and appear to be seen as an equivalent and respected form of transport to cars and buses. And the Baana bicycle corridor serves more than walkers and bicyclists--it is much-needed park space for residents and visitors."

Thanks in part to Zsutty's vision for better non-motorized connectivity in order to make San Jose a more attractive and mobile city, San Jose has one of the nation's largest urban trail networks, and a "Green Vision" goal of doubling mileage to 100 miles by 2022. 

Very cool, on both counts. View a slideshow of more images.

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