Roads, Traffic and Society
The Finnish National Road Administration, whose roots go back to the Royal Finnish Committee for Clearing of Rapids, celebrates its 200th anniversary in 1999. A three-volume history regarding the social significance and technical development of road construction and maintenance and of road transport will be published to mark the occasion. The history is divided choronologically into three parts so that the volume 3 "Pikeä, hikeä,autoja" (FINNRA & Painatuskeskus Oy. Helsinki 1995. ISBN 951-37-1621-X. book was published in Helsinki 17.11.1995) is focusing on the years from 1945 to the future visions of 2005. The two subsequent parts cover the period from 1860 to 1945 (vol. 2) and the time up to 1860 (vol. 1).
This summary is based on book "Pikeä, hikeä,
autoja -tiet, liikenne ja yhteiskunta 1945-2005" written by
Mauno Hänninen, Kimmo Levä, Jaakko Masonen, Marko
Nenonen, Jarmo Peltola, Antero Tervonen, Timo Haavisto,
Kimmo Antila and Matti Turunen. Translation by Teppo
Varttala. Book is edited by Jaakko Masonen and Mauno
More information via email from Finnish National Road Administration/Museum Affairs, Ph.D. Jaakko Masonen.
The development of road traffic was interrupted by the Second World War. Road construction was at a complete standstill and in the area of road maintenance only the most urgent repairs could be taken care of. Even in Lapland, where the Germans systematically destroyed traffic connections during the final stages of the war, the wear of traffic and the lack of maintenance caused two thirds of all damage to roads and bridges. After the war, highways were in miserable condition. Transport tasks relating to evacuation, reconstruction and wood industry experienced great difficulties on both railroads and highways. In the reconstruction of roads and bridges the focus was on Lapland, because the damage was most widespread there and the railroad network only reached the River Kemijoki. The most rapid increase in road traffic during the first post-war years was thus recorded in Northern Finland.
Particularly in the case of goods transport, road traffic could cope better with the difficult situation of the post-war period, because road traffic was more flexible and covered a significantly larger area than railroad traffic. The extensive road network was of particular benefit when new logging areas were obtained for the wood industry, which was in a key position in the development of the entire national economy, and thus also in the development of traffic. In the early 1950's, over 60 % of Finland's goods transport consisted of transporting timber. The importance of timber floating diminished constantly and the transport of timber was being taken over by trucks. From the 1950's onward, the nature of goods transport changed, because trucks were no longer used only in short-distance transportation tasks and feeder traffic, but they were also used to transport timber from logging areas directly to factories, even distances of 300 to 400 kilometers. During the next decade, road traffic became the commonest means of transporting goods and the development continued in the same direction until the 1990's.
In the 1990's, over 70 % of the overall goods traffic ton kilometers are transported by road, whereas the share of railroad traffic remains at approximately 20 %. The transport of timber has clearly lost its relative importance, because the share of wood material reduced to less than 20 % of the overall goods traffic ton kilometers during the 1980's. The increase of road traffic has been boosted as the logistics of commerce and production has become more effective. Attempts to reduce the cost of storage, loading, and unloading meet with the interests of professional van and truck drivers, who are the only ones that can offer transport services directly from the loading area of a production unit to the place of sales.
The development of passenger traffic differed from the development of goods traffic. The lack of transport equipment in the post-war period rendered the activities of bus companies difficult and the frost breaking period made road traffic very uncertain in spring and autumn. Even the traffic of main roads was hindered by the frost breaking period up to the late 1960's, because it was not until the introduction of asphalt paving that relief was brought to the situation. Hence, railroads reclaimed some of the ground that had been lost in the 1930's, because trains provided the safest means of transportation. As the road network gradually improved, the lack of materials for buses eased off, and better new buses were purchased, it was possible to increase the number of bus departures and their ridership. In terms of passenger kilometers, bus traffic surpassed railroad traffic in the 1950's. However, the dominance of bus traffic came to a quick end. As the standard of living rose, the number of private cars also increased. When the restrictions on the import of cars were removed in 1963, cars were already used more than trains and buses taken together. The increase in car traffic also evened out differences in traffic volumes in the different regions of Finland. In the 1950's, Southern Finland had the most traffic and the highest concentration of cars. Within two decades the situation altered to such an extent that there were technically no regional differences in the number of cars. In the 1990's, there are actually fewer cars in the province of Uusimaa (Southern Finland) than in the whole of Finland on the average. Naturally, traffic is clearly concentrated in Southern Finland and on main roads in general.
Growing road traffic demanded more and more significant state contributions to road construction. Different road and transport organizations exerted increasing pressure on the political system and on politicians in the early 1950's. Parliament attended enthusiastically to developing the road network and a new Road Act was passed in 1954. According to the new law, former community and village roads became so-called local roads, which were maintained by Finland's national Roads and Waterways Administration (RWA). The reform improved the position of the lower road network, but in the case of main roads there was little that could be done at the beginning. Attempts to enter road construction appropriations into the national budget failed time after time. Finland's weak national economy did not allow direct road appropriations. Instead, appropriations were first directed at alleviating the difficult unemployment situation, which in turn led to the establishment of large relief work construction sites for the unemployed. The road network that had been hoped for from the beginning of the 1950's was thus built as relief work.
The use of employment appropriations laid down various guidelines for road construction. During the first period of widespread unemployment between 1948 and 1950, the emphasis of construction work was on Eastern and Northern Finland, the areas with the highest unemployment rates. The lack of regional balance in road construction that was brought on by the employment policy was adjusted in the mid-1950's by forming temporary work crews, which were formed of unemployed workers from different parts of the country. The largest crews worked in Southern Finland with the exception of the province of Uusimaa, where workers were sent even from Eastern and Northern Finland. Such temporary crews were used in the construction of the central main roads of Southern Finland in the late 1950's. In the province of Uusimaa, relatively few road construction projects were in progress before the 1960's, and it was not until the 1960's that the most wide-scale construction projects were carried out there.
Because of the conditions imposed upon road construction by the employment policy, construction projects did not always correspond to the best technical and economic standards. Wintertime roadworks became more expensive than normal. During summertime, unemployment records were not updated, and the finishing work of some projects could be delayed for several years, because the state did not grant funds for relief work in summer. In addition, the use of machinery was limited by the state for example during an unemployment peak between 1958 and 1960. As the employment situation improved, relief work could also be discontinued at an irrational stage.
The system underwent a crisis when unemployment was at its worst in the late 1950's. The number of relief workers was increased rapidly, but the meaningfulness and economy of relief work suffered and average earnings decreased. When there was little work to be done and when construction projects were small-scale, the rational realization of construction projects was not impeded by the policy of manual labour very much. However, the situation altered completely when new requirements were imposed upon road construction. Projects became more extensive and their completion took longer. As the use of machinery became widespread and projects grew, road construction no longer met the conditions of employment policy in the same way as before, because less and less manual work was needed. The conditions of relief work were in contradiction with the economic and technical requirements of the projects. Furthermore, there was a threat of a national financial crisis because of the increasing employment appropriations.
The financing of road construction underwent a reform in the early 1960's, because an economic upswing made it possible to channel more appropriations directly to road construction. Although there was an increase in the share of employment appropriations during the following recession after the mid-1960's, the policy of manual labour was given up in the late 1960's. Direct compensation to the unemployed became more common and temporary relief work crews grew fewer in number. The system of such crews came to an end when the new Employment Act was passed in the early 1970's. The nature of unemployment had also changed; more and more of the unemployed lived in cities or other densely populated areas, whereas the relative share of countryside unemployment reduced.
In the 1950's and 1960's, some of the problems of road construction were remedied by taking up loans. Paving projects had been financed with the help of funds from state bonds already in the 1950's. From the 1960's onward, the World Bank began to finance road construction in Finland and granted three substantial loans (in 1964, 1967, and 1971) to Finland for the construction of central road connections, for paving, and for maintenance equipment purchases.
The conditions of the World Bank loans stated that the projects should be organized according to the highest technical and economic standards. The projects were to be carried out by private contractors, which had thus far been rare in Finland, and the contractors were to be chosen on the basis of international competitive bidding. This procedure was also new in Finland. Similarly, the planning and organization of road work changed fundamentally. Construction projects were organized through a separate construction bureau, MALA, which was directly subordinate to the Director General of Finland's Roads and Waterways Administration.
The RWA had been aiming at improvements for a long time, but the activities of the road administration were restricted by the employment policy. Even though a lot of relief work was at times carried out in the 1960's as well, the decade was characterized by a new style of road construction. The new planning and building methods were used even in those projects in which employment appropriations were used.
Roadworks gave work to the highest number of unemployed people. A relatively large share of the unemployed were working people from rural areas and small farmers. In the countryside, timber sales and wintertime logging along with agriculture and cattle farming were the commonest sources of income. Timber sales connected the countryside to Finland's prime export industry, namely to the wood-processing industry. Relief work was needed when logging was reduced by the fluctuations of the trade cycle and when the demand for rural working people and small farmers decreased as machines were introduced into logging.
Road construction also improved timber sales as the possibilities of motor transport grew better. On the other hand, the connection that timber sales formed between the countryside and the export industry was problematic from the point of view of trade policy, because this connection evidently slowed down the advent of other economically feasible rural trades. In fact, relief work was criticized for deep-freezing the trade structure of the countryside. However, this problem was not so much a question of relief work as such, but of the symbiosis of timber sales and the export industry, which indeed gave rise to the relief work system as a solution to wintertime unemployment in the countryside.
Since the 1950's, there had been a call for improvements in community planning and in the long-range programming of the national economy. Road builders were not the only group whose hands were tied by the sporadic financing that was dependent on the unemployment situation; other traffic and earthworks builders also suffered from the short-sightedness of planning and politics. When the Ministry of Finance tried to obtain comprehensive financial information from the different administrative agencies in the late 1960's so as to form a basis for budgetary planning, it turned out that the majority of ministries and central administrative agencies did not have any methods or means for long-term estimates of their financial needs. Hence, the late 1960's and the early 1970's became a period of swift development in community planning. Statutory regional planning was extended to cover the whole of Finland, the number of both central administrative agencies and their personnel was increased, and new departments were established within administrative agencies to deal with the different sectors of their sphere of activity. The Roads and Waterways Administration participated in this development, by improving the general planning of both financial needs and road networks on the levels of central administration and road districts.
The construction of new roads reduced, because the main road network, called for since the 1950's, had been under construction for two decades and it was by and large complete. The largest cities were connected by a hard-surfaced road network and some thirty or fourty kilometers of the most heavily used roads were motorways. Instead of building new roads, it was time to concentrate on improving the safety and traffic carrying capacity of the existing road network.
Matters of road safety and environmental protection were discussed even in the 1960's, but it was in the 1970's that such questions became central issues. The number of road accident casualties was at its highest in 1972. The ill state of road safety received attention even in the annual New Year's speech of the President of the Republic. The reforms that were made to the regulations concerning vehicle technology and to the Traffic Code in order to improve road safety were widely debated among both motorists and researchers involved in traffic studies. The use of road salt, studded tyres, as well as safety belts, and especially speed limits were subject to dispute everywhere from academic studies and Letters to the Editor to coffee table discussions. Studded tyres, for example, improved wintertime road safety, but diminished summertime driving comfort by forming dangerous ruts in the paving. The Roads and Waterways Administration participated in road safety measures by surveying and improving dangerous road sections, by increasing traffic interchanges, overtaking and preselection lanes, rest areas, road lighting, and so on. Road safety measures bore fruit quickly in the 1970's, and the number of road accident casualties was cut down to a half during the decade. By the outset of the 1980's, the most powerful and far-reaching safety measures had been implemented, and the decrease in the number of accidents stopped, the situation remaining quite stable throughout the 1980's.
The construction of bypass roads got off to a good start in the 1970's, when other main road projects decreased. Especially in the 1980's, many Finnish cities saw the construction of a ring road or a through road that was separate from the street network. As was the case with the use of road salt and its positive effect on wintertime traffic safety, bypass roads improved the safety of urban areas, but they also created negative side-effects and aroused criticism.
The rapid increase in the number of bypass roads and private cars created phenomena that show very clearly what the notion of automotive society means. The nature of city life changed in such a way that one's home and working place, shopping centres, and places for leisure-time activities no longer had to be within walking distance from each other or within the reach of public transportation.The use of land became more extensive as the neighbouring communes of cities could serve as locations for new suburbs, whose traffic was at worst based on the use of private cars. The nature of retail selling changed when supermarkets were built by the side of bypass roads for the sake of efficiency and inexpensive building land. Particularly the smaller retail stores of suburban areas were stricken by the establishment of such supermarkets.
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