In my post Visiting Helsinki? Here are 12 Free Things To Do, See and Use, I teased about a very useful online service. I did mention in the Helsinki Mini Guide that Helsinki is technologically adept. Well, this is a perfect example of a forward thinking city taming today’s technology and then using it to great effect. What is it and how can it help us with our research and planning for our visit to Helsinki?
The Helsinki Service Map
Say hello to The Helsinki Service Map! Another mapping service you say? We’ve already got Google Maps, Apple Maps, TomTom GPS maps, and more offline/online maps that we can use for our travels. True, but this one does have some interesting and unique Helsinki specific POI data layered on top of the map.
It was created for municipality residents to locate current information about all aspects of the public services available in the Helsinki region. Not only are the citizens using it to find anything they require in their daily lives, but the city uses it in sophisticated ways for city planning. The Finns didn’t win the World Design Capital in 2012 for nothing! Luckily for us, we tourists can also access the Service Map to do some research and planning from the comfort of our home (or while on the road in Helsinki using our smartphones).
Technically, it is an open project using open data administered by the City of Helsinki Service Map (https://www.hel.fi/palvelukartta/). The data is extracted and layered onto an open mapping service using the REST API (a programming interface between the web application and the data).
Head on over to the following URL: https://servicemap.hel.fi and let’s review some of it’s capabilities. In the articles to follow, we will be using this Service Map to help with getting the required information. As I mentioned in the article Visiting Helsinki? Here are 12 Free Things To Do, See and Use this service is free to use.
Tour the site
Let’s state this upfront. The Service Map allows you to search for things (like Google maps) and to route from one place to another (like Google Maps). What differentiates this service is the type of things you can search for, the information you receive about it, and the highly personalized routing capabilities. Let’s have a look.
When you first get to the site you will be offered a tour of the features available. Click the Start Feature Tour button and quickly learn about the site’s interface options and capabilities. Do the tour now and I’ll assume you are familiar with the interface and options from here on in.
I won’t repeat what the tour goes through, but here’s a quick summary of what it shows:
- Customize your preferences including selecting one of three languages and any of the 4 cities (Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa, Kauniainen)
- Customize your accessibility information for Hearing and Sight and/or Mobility
- Reveal, Search or Browse for public service points as well as route to them.
- Read detailed information about service points
Now that you are familiar with the site, let’s have a closer look at what it can do for us travelers to Helsinki.
The feature tour showed that we can search for or browse for services. Let’s quickly go over this so you can see what we can do here. If we do a search for something specific, for example, the Temppeliaukio Church, the results return “Rock Church (Temppeliaukio Church)” as the top result. No surprises here. Just note that Anne’s Shop is the next result. It’s the souvenir shop just outside the Church that I mentioned in my The Temppeliaukio Church – Helsinki’s Must See Attraction article. Straight forward, works as we expected.
Now, maybe you’re a volunteer fire fighter in your city and you’re interested in visiting a fire department or two (preferably the volunteer type) while in Helsinki. If you search for the term “volunteer” you will see in the predicted results “Volunteer fire departments “. Select this and it will return a list of 15 Service Points for the category (Note: I have only the city of Helsinki selected in My Preferences). I just wanted to highlight how the Service Map has interesting and unique information in it’s database. This data set is not on Google Maps. Google Maps does have fire stations, which in Service Map is Rescue Station. So knowing the terminology is important.
As a final note on this topic, browsing through the categories reveals many interesting lists and if you are creative in how to find and use the data, it actually will be helpful to you as a visitor. For example, do a search for “Public Toilets”. I will talk more about this with more examples and ideas in some upcoming articles.
Accessibility – A City For All
Let’s first take a look at something that is important and shows how the city of Helsinki does an amazing job with this – accessibility support. Let’s go straight to an example to highlight this. First off, I’ll set my accessibility preferences to show I’m using a hearing aid and a wheelchair. You are reminded of your accessibility choices in the icons on the top, to the left of the My Preferences button.
Now perform a search for “Libraries”. You get returned a list of 9 categories and 112 Service Points as well as their locations on the map. Click on Show all 112 Service Points at the bottom to reveal the full list. As you go through this list of libraries, you’ll notice that they either have no shortcomings or they have 1 or more shortcomings. Look for and select Kallio Library (which coincidentally, was the example used in the feature tour) and we’ll see what this means.
The details for Kallio Library come up and if you expand the Accessibility section with 3 shortcomings, we can see the 3 issues. These 3 accessibility issues affect me directly as my accessibility preferences indicate that I use a wheelchair and a hearing aid. If I were interested in visiting the Kallio Library, I now find out that the front of the entrance has limited room for a wheelchair, that there are issues with the toilet door, and there is a lack of support rails for the toilet. Finally, because I find out that the facility does not have any induction loop for my hearing aid. If I modify my Hearing and Sight preferences and de-select the Hearing Aid, then you’ll notice the Kallio Library now only has 2 shortcomings since the induction loop issue is now removed.
If we look further down at the Accessibility subsection named Accessibility Details, we get lots of information. We find all the accessibility details we would need for this service point – good and bad. They have detailed descriptions about the route to the main entrance, the main entrance itself, inside the facility, and another entrance. Reading through all this will help you know in advance about the accessibility features of this library so that you know what to expect on your visit.
One thing to note is if we chose a library with no shortcomings (try Pasila Library), this Service Point still has an Accessibility Details section. These details describe everything you would need to know about this library and how it supports your chosen accessibility preference.
Let’s quickly take a look at another example. I wrote in my The Temppeliaukio Church – Helsinki’s Must See Attraction article that it is very wheelchair friendly as the entrance and the interior are both at street level. Do a search for Rock Church. You’ll notice that the Rock Church has 2 shortcomings. Clicking on Accessibility reveals that the entrance door is heavy. Ahhh, so the layout of the entrance area is very wheelchair friendly BUT, with this extra detail, we find that someone with a wheelchair may have a difficult time with the entrance door without assistance. Good to be aware of when you visit. You’ll notice that if you change your Mobility preferences and remove the I use a wheelchair option, there are now no shortcomings for the Rock Church.
To summarize, a shortcoming at a Service Point is a failure to meet an accessibility standard. Whether a Service Point has shortcomings or not, always check the Accessibility Details to help plan your visit, to be aware of how your visit may be affected (positively or negatively). You can see how useful this tool can be for travellers who are, or who have friends/family, that have some sort of disability.
Routing in the Service Map works as expected. Moving from Point A to Point B, using the transport method of my choice, it returns one or more route possibilities with all the details along the way. Also, the route suggestions may be different depending on your time of departure as the timing of public transport options vary. As a great segue from the last section, you’ll find that accessibility preferences are taken into account here as well.
So let’s take a quick example. Start by clearing your accessibility preferences. Perform a search for Sibelius Monument. Then click Route Here and depart from the address Maneesikatu 4c, Helsinki (just a random spot I picked) and use the transport option By Foot. We get returned a route that would take 48 minutes. Notice how the route goes through the railway tracks – but really it takes you down to a pedestrian tunnel. Now edit your accessibility preferences and select that you use a wheelchair and click OK. Now the walking route has changed, taking into account your wheelchair. It routes you around the railway tracks, avoiding going down to the pedestrian tunnel (which I’ll have to guess does not have accessibility features along the way) and your trip will also be lengthened to 87 minutes.
If we change our transport options from By Foot to With Public Transport and remove the wheelchair preference, we are given the following (note this may not be exactly what you get, it’s just what I get at this for public transport). With no wheel chair, the preferred route has us walking 3 times and getting on and off the bus twice. On the other hand, with the wheelchair preference enabled, we take the tram – getting on and off just once, and moving ourselves before and after the tram. This route would make for an easier journey for the wheelchair visitor than the first route.
For Us, A Research Tool
With such transparency and usefulness, Helsinki’s IT department did a great job here with the Service Map. Browsing through all the categories and playing with the features for our own purposes, you sense the utilitarian nature of this tool for it’s citizens. Not as some techno-babble, out of reach service that only the sufficiently techno-savvy youngster can use. Instead, it functions seamlessly and with straight forward purpose that everyone can use. Most importantly for us, it’s an approachable research tool for planning our trip to Helsinki.
Have fun with it and let me know in the comments below what interesting services you found or how you intend to use (or used) the Service Map. If this was useful to you please share it out.
Whereas the Service Map is an online web service, the handy City-Opas Helsinki app for your mobile smartphone is an offline tool that you should download. Available in the Apple App Store, the Google Play Store and the Microsoft Windows Store, the City-Opas Helsinki app is free and no in-app purchases are required. You will have at your fingertips the list of service points such as hotels, restaurants, attractions, etc. Each service point will have a quick summary of their address, phone #, hours of operation, website address, and it’s location on the offline map. With support for location services (GPS), you can figure out where you are in relation to the service point.
Also, there is a section for a list of main events happening in Helsinki for the current year, categorized by month. Each even has a short description with address (if any), website address and location on the offline map.
Very handy indeed and great to have as another tool for your visit to Helsinki, just in case.