Introduction to Roads in Finland
Introduction to Roads in Finland
To compare: The area of Finland is 1.4 times the area of the UK, and the population is less than one tenth of the population of the UK. Thus, the average population density in the UK is 16 times the density in Finland. The northernmost province, Lapland, is very sparsely populated: The area is about 40% of the UK but the population is less than 200,000.
There are no mountainous areas in Finland, so no mountain roads either. The inland landscape is scattered by tens of thousands of lakes, and there are lot of inhabited islands on the coast of the Baltic Sea. The number of road bridges is high and there are more than 40 ferry connections.
The winter conditions are challenging: The roads must be created very solid to survive the harsh conditions, and keeping them open during the winter is a major effort. Both these challenges cause significant costs. This is a one reason behind a high fraction of the lower class road network being unpaved gravel roads.
The total length of the state-owned network is about 78,000 kilometres. The classification is five-layered:
|Type||Numbering||Signpost||Length in 2020, km|
|Primary Roads (Main Roads Class I)||1-29||8 593|
|Secondary Roads (Main Roads Class II)||40-98||4 859|
|Regional Roads||3 digits||13 482|
|Connecting Roads||4 digits||50 973|
|Secondary Connecting Roads||5 digits||Not signposted|
In addition, the cities and the municipalities own 26,000 kilometres of streets and local roads. They do not belong to any common numbering scheme.
There are about 350,000 kilometres of private roads. A large part of the private network is supported financially by the cities and the municipalities. Those roads receiving the support are open to the public.
There are several European Roads in Finland. The European Roads are not part of the classification but they carry the national number, too. For instance, the national road 4 is indicated as the road E75, too.
There are about 930 kilometres of motorways. With some minor exceptions, they are dual carriageways with 2+2 lanes. There are six motorways originating radially from Helsinki having the total length of 700 kilometres. The other motorways are rather short sections close to the biggest cities. The motorway section of the road 29 is said to be the northernmost motorway in the world.
Most of the other roads are single carriageways with 1+1 lanes. The most notable exceptions to this are the ring roads around Helsinki and Turku. The busiest sections of those are dual carriageway with 2+2 or 3+3 lane setup.
In hilly areas, some primary and secondary roads are equipped with uphill fast lanes to help overtaking slow vehicles. A few of these 2+1 roads are equipped with a middle barrier separating the traffic directions.
There is no separate numbering scheme for the motorways. They carry the national road number.
The motorway exit numbering was introduced in 2001.
The traffic signs follow the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals. The background of the danger warning signs, the prohibitive or restrictive signs, and the mandatory signs is yellow. The danger warning signs are triangular.
The colour of the direction signs vary:
- The default background is blue.
- Green for motorways and roads for motor vehicles
- White for local destinations
- Yellow for temporary roads and diversions
- Brown for tourist destinations
- Black for private roads
Patching is used in the advance direction signs. The patches are often nested: white on blue on green, for instance.
There are three types of advance direction signs. The Type A sign is usually used at major intersections while the Type B is mainly for minor intersections and for urban use. The Type C signs are not very common.
(The new Road Traffic Act effective as of June 2020, introduced a new traffic sign coding scheme. The Type A, B, and C are not any more official terms, but they remain in use. The graphical design rules are somewhat changed, but the big picture is about the same as earlier.)
On motorways, the advance directions signs are slightly different from the normal ones.
Most of Finland is monolingual. However, there are areas where Swedish is widely spoken. These areas lie on the southern and western coasts, and in the southwestern archipelago. If certain criteria are met, the municipality is officially bilingual. In the mainland Finland, there were a few monolingual Swedish areas earlier, but the remaining ones turned bilingual in 2015 and 2016.
The language in the traffic signs text follows the language distribution of the municipality the signs is located in: Finnish in the most of Finland, Swedish in the monolingual Swedish areas and both languages in bilingual areas, the language of the majority appearing first. The arrangement may be confusing on certain roads, because of the order of the names changing.
On the primary and secondary roads, as well as on motorways, slightly different rules apply: In monolingual areas there are bilingual direction signs if the majority in the target location speaks the opposite language. Simple is that.
In the northernmost Lapland, the Sami language is widely spoken. The direction signs are in Finnish and in Sami, the Finnish name appearing first.
There are no tolls on the public network.
The default speed limit in the signposted built-up areas is 50 km/h and 80 km/h elsewhere. The limits 60 km/h and 100 km/h often apply, and 120 km/h on rural motorways. In the built-up areas, lower limits 30 km/h and 40 km/h are often in effect.
The primary and secondary roads are free of ferries. On the lower network, there are number of ferries at water crossings where it would be uneconomical to build a bridge. Ferries exist both on lakes and on the coast.
The ferries being part of the state-owned roads are free of charge. Some of those operate under a timetable while the remaining ones operate as needed or on request. Most of the ferries operate all night long.
The vehicles are carried on a first come first served basis, with a few exceptions. Regular buses and emergency vehicles have a priority. On a few routes, the local people have a priority, too.
Åland Islands are an autonomous area having some special rules. The islands have their own road numbering system overlapping with the numbers on the mainland. Most of the ferries are chargeable.
The winter conditions last a few months in the south and about half a year in the north. All public roads are kept open all year long. The busy roads are kept free from ice using salt. Other roads usually are icy or there is snow on the road. Winter tires are mandatory in November, December, January and February at winter conditions.
The lower speed limits apply from late October to early April: Most of the 100 km/h sections are reduced to 80 km/h and all 120 km/h sections on motorways to 100 km/h.
Most ferries operate year round. Some of those are powerful ice breakers. A few ferry connections are closed down at winter, because there is an alternative route available.
Whenever the ice conditions permit, a few public ice roads will be opened. The public ice roads are monitored constantly and they are safe to use. The longest ice roads are the Oulu-Hailuoto connection on the road 816 (about 10 kilometres) and the road across the Lake Pielinen (Lieksa-Koli, about 7 km).
Elks, deer and reindeer cause some harm on the roads. Elks are dangerous because of their size. Typically, 1500 elk collisions happen every year, killing five persons in average. Two thirds of the accidents happen in dusk or darkness. Hundreds of kilometres of road are protected by fences blocking the elks' access to the road.
Reindeer exist in the north. Collision with them usually does not kill people, but causes other harm. Reindeer often move in herds, possibly blocking the road for a while.
The current road numbering scheme for primary and secondary routes was introduced in 1938. The roads 1 to 7 originated radially clockwise from Helsinki, the roads 8 to 10 from Turku, the roads 11 and 13 from Tampere, and the roads 13 to 15 from Viipuri. The highest primary road was 21. The secondary roads, numbered from 51 to 82, did not follow similar systematic setup. Instead, the numbers grew from south to north. Later, the range of primary road numbers has been extended up to 29, and the number of secondary roads span from 40 to 98.
The network defined in 1938 basically remains mostly unchanged. The southeastern part of the country was lost to Soviet Union at World War II. The numbers of the lost roads were later assigned to the other roads upgraded to main roads. As new roads have been built, the number range of both primary and secondary routes has been extended.
Until the end on 1940's, most of the Finnish roads were slow, windy and narrow rural gravel roads. Most of the main road network was completely rebuilt between 1950's and 1980's with a huge effort. The first motorway section on the road 1 opened in 1962.
- Longest primary road: 4 Helsinki-Utsjoki, 1294 km
- Shortest primary road: 29 Keminmaa-Tornio, 17 km
- Longest secondary road: 58 Kangasala-Kärsämäki, 384 km
- Shortest secondary road: 98: Aavasaksa-Swedish border, 0.4 km
- Highest point on main roads: Muotkatakka, 565 metres above sea level, road 21
- Northernmost point on main roads: Utsjoki, road 4, 69°55'N 27°02'E
- Southernmost point on main roads: Hanko, road 25, 59°49'N 22°58'E
- Westernmost point on main roads: Kilpisjärvi, road 21, 69°07'N 20°48'E (mainland), Storby in Eckerö, road 4, 60°13'N 19°32'E (Åland Islands)
- Easternmost point on main roads: Ilomantsi, road 74, 62°41'N 30°58'E
- Longest ferry connection: Korppoo-Houtskari, 9.5 km
- Longest cable ferry connection: Bergö, 1166 metres
- Shortest cable ferry connection: Kivimo, 169 metres