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Located on the south shore of Lake Superior, some people might have a difficult time understanding what Ashland, Wisconsin has to do with Finland. The two places are over 4,000 miles apart. Despite the distance, the APWA’s Jennings Randolph International Fellowship Program provided me with the opportunity to explore a cultural connection between the two areas and to further my research interests in water distribution systems.

Established in 1854, Ashland is a city with a population of 8,000 that, for most of its history, has been supported by the natural resources found in the surrounding area known as the “Northwoods.” 

Introducing Ashland at the 2019 Finnish Society of Municipal Engineers Conference in Jyvaskla.

Finland, or “Suomi” in Finnish, is a country of 5.5 million people, making it the smallest country in the European Union. To be honest, a major reason I wanted to visit Finland was the saunas, it is estimated that there are two million saunas throughout Finland, many operated for public use. Look at the view from this one on Lake Tuomio, north of the City of Jyvaskla, and tell me that’s not a place anyone would like to visit! 

Relaxation, cleansing and reflection are part of the Finnish sauna tradition

Aside from a few sauna breaks, my purpose in Finland was to present research that I had started when I was a graduate student, on the application of asset management to US water distribution systems and to explore similar approaches used by Finnish utilities

As part of my public works tour in Finland, Dr. Tapio Katko, Professor of Civil Engineering at Tampere University, arranged meetings with a group of Finnish water utilities, including Tampere Water (TW) and the Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority (HSY).   Dr. Katko has studied the management of water systems in Finland, amongst many other topics.  He was able to connect me with utility staff focused on the management water distribution infrastructure, which allowed for the opportunity to explore the approach taken by each utility.  

John Butler (left) and Dr. Tapio Katko (right) enjoy the view from the Pyynikki Observation Tower in Tampere, Finland. 

Interviews with TW and HSY revealed that both utilities utilize the same type of data identified in my previous research.  Both utilities track pipe breaks based on location, age and pipe material and use the data to identify pipe classes that should be prioritized for replacement.  In the case of TW, this information provided clear priorities for pipe replacement, with steel mains as the first priority for the replacement and “grey iron” (cast iron manufacturer between 1950-1975) as the second.    Both utilities rely heavily on leak detection as a form of condition assessment for distribution pipes.   District metering points are established throughout the distribution system, allowing staff to monitor water use and more readily identify leaks.   Portable leak detection equipment, referred to as “noise lookers”, is used as part of routine operations to further pinpoint the location of pipes requiring replacement.   HSY maintains a distribution network of roughly 1,925 miles of pipe, with about 620 miles or almost 1/3, of the system inspected via leak detection each year. 

Each utility also shared unique asset management practices related to distribution systems.  The TW is working with pipe manufacturers to evaluate the condition of samples of PVC pipe from their system to determine if the material is trending toward the 100+ year useful lifetime that manufacturers advertise.  

Installation of New PVC Water Main in the City of Tampere, Finland 

On the customer communication front, HSY provides utility performance data, such as annual supply interruption (minutes) per resident and annual operating expenses per resident.   This information helps the utility better communicate with utility customers on difficult topics such as the cost of service and the benefits of reliable water service.  

Study of these utilities offers support for the simplified asset management framework and also contributes new information to the conversation.   In addition, the differences in historical development patterns between Ashland and Finland also offered contrasting perspectives on my research topic.  In Ashland, as with much of the US, industrialization occurred in the early part of the 20th century and utilities now face the present-day reality of reacting to aging infrastructure and advocating for a future where the true costs of infrastructure are more fully supported.  In Finland, utilities are not free of these same issues but, because many water distribution pipes were more recently installed (post WWII), the present-day reality allows for more planning for future replacement needs. 

The opportunity to traverse the vast distance between Ashland and Finland as a 2019 Jennings Randolph International Fellow provided strong evidence of the effectiveness of the types of distribution system management approaches that I have advocated for as a graduate student, and now, as a public works professional.  I firmly believe that this type of international idea exchange is valuable, insightful, and necessary. 

by John Butler, Director of Public Works, Ashland, WI

2019 Jennings Randolph International Fellow, Finland



The ride continues.

From where we left off in last month’s JR Viewpoint blog, we just surfaced to Helsinki’s city streets after biking the Baana, a trail converted from an old railway corridor. My 2019 Jennings Randolph International Fellowship brought me to Finland to study all things multimodal. On a sunny morning in May, I joined Oskari Kaupinmäki, Helsinki’s Bicycle Coordinator, for a bike ride to learn how pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure projects are enticing more walking and cycling trips. The creation of the Baana is just one part of Helsinki’s transformation. On the second half of our ride, I discovered how Helsinki is retrofitting its streets to revitalize the joy of biking in the city.

Oskari is a self-proclaimed transport anthropologist/psychologist. His passion is to improve city life by re-introducing the bicycle into the urban environment. We begin our ride with a quick history lesson. Cycling has been a central part of Finnish lifestyle for more than a century. To this day, ninety percent of Finns own a bike. Everywhere you turn, you see people riding “granny bikes”, a sturdy black city bike modeled on a design from the 1920s.  As Helsinki became more urban, cycling in the city declined because it wasn’t safe and convenient. In recent years, Helsinki’s investments in bike share, trails, and on-street bike improvements has spurred a resurgence of cycling in the city. To accelerate this change, Helsinki is part of CIVITAS Handshake, a European Union initiative that is bringing together 13 of Europe’s top cycling cities to share solutions to make cycling a more attractive and everyday mode of transportation.

The classic granny bike has been a fixture in Finnish life for more than a century.

As we pedal through the city, Oskari explains where changes are needed most based on a recent public survey. When the City asked residents what improvements would motivate them to cycle more, the top five most frequent responses were:

  1. More secure bicycle parking facilities
  2. More extensive and better-connected cycle paths
  3. Make cycling safer
  4. Provide bike detours around construction
  5. Maintain cycle paths year round

This bike rack can securely park 10 bikes in the equivalent of one car parking space.

With the influx of cycling comes the need to provide convenient and secure parking. The question is: “Where will all the needed bike racks fit?” Maybe it’s a matter of reallocating space. As we cruise by Helsinki’s Central Library, I notice a car-shaped bike rack that can securely park 10 bikes in the equivalent of one car parking space.

In the City Centre, it’s common for pedestrians and cyclists to share the same sidewalk. This old system is incrementally being replaced with separate bike and pedestrian paths for increased safety and capacity. The addition of dedicated bike signals throughout the city is fostering safe and predictable traffic movements for everyone.

Dedicated bike signals create safe and predictable movements for everyone.

About halfway into our ride, we are funneled onto a tight sidewalk to avoid a construction zone. In Finland, the construction season is very short, so when spring hits, it seems like construction is happening on every corner. One area for improvement is better detours for pedestrians and cyclists around construction zones

 Better pedestrian and bicycle detours are needed around construction zones.

As we wrap up our ride, Oskari tells me about a pilot project to promote winter cycling by “brushing and salting” 35 km of cycling paths. He knows that providing year-round maintenance of cycle paths is one of the best ways to attract more cyclists.

My morning bike ride with Oskari has breezed by. My biggest takeaway is that when you make good bicycle infrastructure, you get better pedestrian environment, and it’s safer for everybody. I feel inspired by what I have learned and can apply to my work as a transportation planner for the City of Shoreline, WA, USA.


by Nora Daley-Peng, ASLA, AICP, LEED AP+

2019 Jennings Randolph International Fellow, Finland


In Helsinki’s city center, more than a third of trips are made by walking and ten percent are by biking. That’s a testimony to the city’s great pedestrian and bike network. It’s also a result of Helsinki’s City Bikes program that launched in 2016 and attracted a groundswell of bike users through sheer convenience. 
As a recipient of the 2019 Jennings Randolph International Fellowship, I travelled to Finland to learn first-hand about Helsinki’s mobility system and bring that experience back to my community in Shoreline, WA. To get the full user experience, I took a bike ride with Oskari Kaupinmäki, Helsinki Bicycle Traffic Project Coordinator.
Oskari Kaupinmäki, Helsinki Bicycle Traffic Project Coordinator, is helping to make cycling in the city safe, fun, and direct.
From the City Centre, we biked the Baana (Finnish slang for ‘rail’), an approximately one-mile pedestrian and bike trail built from an old converted railway corridor in 2012. By 2016, 350,000 people were using the Baana annually. That’s more than half of Helsinki’s population! It was pretty empty when Oskari and I biked it mid-morning, but during morning and evening commutes it can be overcrowded with four cyclists biking abreast (two in each direction). Creating more elbow room is a problem that Oskari is interested in solving. “But, how can you make more space within Baana’s confined walls?”, I asked. Some of his solutions include re-adjusting the space allocated to the walking trail and the cycle track, which currently is about a 50/50 split, to provide more negotiation room for bikes; paving over the cobble shoulder, changing vertical light poles to overhead catenary lights, and jackhammering out some of the canted rockery walls at underpasses and replacing them with space efficient vertical walls. 
The Baana trail was built from an old converted railway corridor to connect the City Centre to the Western Harbor.
As we cruised along the Baana, Oskari pointed out some of its bonus features...staircases with runnels to assist rolling bikes and strollers up and down, City Bike stations, painted murals on underpass walls to help brighten and brand the trail, and a digital bike counter that added two more rides to its daily total as we swooshed pass.
Staircases have runnels to assist rolling bikes and strollers up and down.
Brightly painted art mural on the Baana’s underpasses delight people walking and biking by.
As we approach the end of Baana, I see the Western Harbor's big ships looming in the distance. Here, the Baana’s linear nature completely dissolves into open urban plaza with some sports courts and playgrounds along its edges. The Baana’s terminus offers many connections to surrounding city streets, but it takes a careful eye to follow the small paving markings with a bike logo stamped on them to stay on the right path. Oskari agrees that the end of the Baana needs better wayfinding and shares his bigger philosophy, “There are always ways to make a pedestrian and bike path better. But, when a project is done, it is best to apply those lessons learned to the next project and come back later to make tweaks to the initial project.” Considering how ambitious Helsinki is about expanding its low-stress, high-comfort bike network, it is best to keep moving and keep improving. 
Wayfinding pavers at the Baana’s terminus near Western Harbor.
Stay tuned for my next blog where we continue my ride with Oskari on the city streets of Helsinki.
Ride on!
by Nora Daley-Peng, ASLA, AICP, LEED AP+, Senior Transportation Planner, City of Shoreline, WA
2019 Jennings Randolph International Fellow, Finland


I had the pleasure and honor to be one of the 2013 recipients of the Jennings Randolph fellowships and traveled to Australia for my study tour, which was to learn how Australian public works professionals reach out to their communities. Understanding their governmental structure was one of my first steps before visiting Australia. In part of my research, I found out that the Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) was the organization responsible for all state roads in New South Wales, which included the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge. This organization seemed very similar to our state Departments of Transportation.

One of my interests was finding out more about the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge and their communication methods for maintaining their bridge. Back in 2012, the RMS had to shut down the bridge for 24 hours to do maintenance. It was the first time in 80 years since the road surface was stripped back to the original concrete deck. This shutdown affected 155,000 vehicles per day, so the RMS had an extensive public relations and media coverage plan to capture a potential audience of nearly 42 million people.

Press releases, media coverage, radio announcements, door knockers, mailers, postcards, variable message signs, digital and social media coverage, flyers, stakeholder meetings, presentations, etc. were included in the communications plan. It was amazing to see the planning that took place for communicating this maintenance activity, and to consider all the people or entities that were potentially affected, such as businesses, sporting events, residents, tourists, etc.

I was the Public Works Director for the City of Palm Bay in Florida at the time of this study tour. When I came back to Florida, one of the first things that came up was the need to shut down a collector roadway that had around 6,500 vehicles per day due to a roadway realignment project going on in the City. Part of the construction required the contractor to shut down the collector roadway for nearly three weeks in order to connect the realigned road with the existing road. The City had never experienced shutting down a collector roadway like this, so I was able to share the story I learned from the Sydney Harbour Bridge shutdown and apply what I learned to our project (at a much smaller scale, of course). We reached out to the community via reverse 911 calls, press releases, variable message signs, electronic media, social media and mailers. The public information plan we had was so effective that we did not receive any complaints.

Overall, traveling outside the United States has always given me new appreciations for other cultures in the world. I highly encourage you all to get that passport and travel; you will learn to appreciate what you have and what others do in other parts of the world. This trip left a lasting impression in my life and I will be forever grateful for the amazing opportunity it afforded me!

by Elia Twigg, PE, CONSOR Engineers,

2013 Jennings Randolph International Fellow, Australia

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