Thursday, September 11, 2014

Critical Mass Reunion Tour??

She deserves better than a gutter!
The Budapest cycling movement is back! An open invitation is up on Facebook for a cycling demonstration around the Nagykörút at 5:30 p.m. September 22, i.e. evening rush hour on European Car-Free Day. As a bonus, sunny weather's predicted.

It sounds an awful lot like the fall Critical Mass rides or yore, which were held at the same time on the same date. But the head honchos of the former Critical Mass, Sinya and Kuku of Hajtas Pajtas, don't appear to be spearheading this one -- nor is anyone else. The Facebook page doesn't identify anyone as organiser or leader. It's just a page declaring: "Let the Nagykörút be bikeable!" A text below reads:
It's been five years since the Nagykörút Critical Mass, but the situation is still the same. Instead of plans and promises, we want concrete steps! Therefore, we call for a common Car-free Day ride to re-draw attention to the matter of the Nagykörút!
It's actually been four years since the Nagykörút Critical Mass: the one that had no route, where we just went down to occupy the street, riding back and forth between the Szabadság bridge and Margit bridge on the Pest side. But the need for bikeways on the Nagykörút is an evergreen issue, and it's made especially timely this fall with the roll-out of Budapest's new bike-share system

In anticipation of a new wave of novice urban cyclists flooding downtown on bright green Bubi bikes, the city carried out a big programme of bike-friendly improvements to downtown streets in the system coverage area. The improvements included new bike racks, new contraflow cycling lanes and new signage. But the most needed improvement of all was left out -- bikeways for the Nagykörút.

For many trips to and from and around downtown, the Nagykörút offers the most convenient route. But the road space is mainly taken up by cars -- four lanes for moving ones, and a lane on each side for parked ones. It's legal to ride your bike on the Nagykörút but often the traffic is going so fast you feel like you're risking your life. (For a short while last year, car speeds on the Nagykörút were reduced slightly in order to prioritise tram traffic. Mayor Tarlos put the kibash on that last fall and restored the Formula 1 flavour of things.

It's insanity to have  a beautiful new bike-sharing system with several docking points on a road that feels (and smells!) like a high-speed expressway. Car traffic on the Nagykörút should be cut down to one lane going in each direction with the speed limit reduced to 30 kph. In this way, the Nagykörút would not only be bikeable, it'd be shoppable, walkable, pram-able and dine-able. 

When Critical Mass came to an end more than a year ago, organisers said it was because its mission had been fulfilled. They said they needed to turn their attention to more targetted, behind-the-scenes lobbying. But in the absence of Critical Mass, we're missing a sense of community and solidarity among cyclists and wish-to-be cyclists. And when we're dealt with setbacks, like the never-ending postponement of the congestion charge, the cancellation of priority bus lanes or the sweeping under the rug of brilliant cycling plans for the Margit körút  -- there needs to be a loud, visible response. A big turnout on September 22 will be just the thing.

What: Bike demonstration for cycling accommodation on the Nagykörút
When: Starts 5:30 p.m. September 22
Where: Jászai Mari tér

Monday, September 8, 2014

Bubis are out -- finally!

Photo stolen from the Urbanista blog.
At long last, Budapest's new bike share system has shed its training wheels.

Bubi made its full public debut this morning with 1,100 bikes available from 76 docking stations around downtown, Margit Island and a few places in Buda on or near the Danube bank.

Now, anyone interested in using one can do so. For the grand opening, the price of entry is just HUF 100 (about EUR 0.30). This buys you a seven-day ticket, which is obtainable at a Bubi docking point. You'll need to bring a bank card and mobile phone.

Long-term options are also available. A year pass is HUF 12,000 or just HUF 6,000 for those who have a BKK public transport pass. There are other options, as well.

The system launch ends a long, frustrating period of internal and public testing that started back in April. The system was plagued with bugs, mainly IT things related to the rental mechanism and the on-board electronic lock. Just a week ago, there was a reported problem with the docking station bank card reader.

But a final round of public trials involving some 1,000 volunteers ended last week, and the Budapest Transport Centre today opened it up to everyone.
In our family, we all have our own bikes and I've wondered whether I'll actually participate in Bubi. But I spotted an attractive feature in the system: With a single long-term pass (Bubi kartya), you can check out up to four bikes at a time. This would come in handy when we have visitors and need some extra bikes. Rather than having to keep a fleet of our own guest bikes, or having to arrange long-term rentals from a Budapest shop (limited weekend hours), we could all walk down to the nearest Bubi station (5-10 minutes from our front door), check out some bikes and take off.

The Bubi bikes are heavy and pokey (like shared bikes everywhere), but for short rides around town, they're fine. I think people will soon come to appreciate how this new mode of transport can make their lives easier and more fun.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Bubi rounds up 1,000 guinea pigs in 1 hour

I just got tired of posting pics of Bubi bikes.
The internal testing phase for Bubi is finally over and now begins the public trial.
City transport company BKK has rounded up 1,000 volunteers for testing, and on Thursday, they will start a two-week trial to see how the system performs in real-world conditions with a large base of clients.

After the trial, each volunteer user will be asked to fill out an evaluation questionnaire, with results feeding into a final refinements of the system before it opens to the wider public.
BKK apparently had an easy time identifying volunteers. It posted an announcement promising a free six-month Bubi pass (value of about EUR 30) to anyone who would take part. The requirements were that they use the system at least 10 times during a two-week trial, and follow through with the evaluation.

Electronic registration opened Monday morning at and within one hour BKK had their thousand guinea pigs.

Not surprising, as the bikes have been out on the streets since the first week of April, while usage has been restricted to a small number of handpicked volunteers in an internal test. I've followed the process quite closely and therefore understood that the system hadn't officially opened yet. But I've heard from several friends and acquaintances who had attempted to check out Bubi bikes, and then walked away frustrated thinking they simply didn't correctly interpret the instructions on the Bubi terminals. This goes down to BKK's perplexing policy of not communicating during the trial phase. I can only assume it was because the organisation's leadership was embarrassed about the system's problems.

As was widely reported, Bubi's registration and check-out system had a number of bugs, and the envisioned "brief testing period" stretched out more than three months.

According to the kerekagy blog, T-Systems, the lead partner in the consortium that's implementing Bubi, is liable for a HUF 120 million penalty for the system's tardy launch.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Bubi's testing phase testing patience

Everyone's curious about the Bubi bikes.
On its homepage this week, the Budapest Transport Center (BKK) acknowledged serious problems with the testing phase of the MOL Bubi bike-sharing system, now in two months delay past its April 7 launch date.

Bugs in the check-out technology have prevented testers from removing and reconnecting bicycles at the system docking stations, and BKK isn't satisfied with efforts to fix the problems. The company says it may be forced to cancel its contract with the system providers if they don't get Bubi rolling soon.

The telecom company T Systems leads the implementing consortium, with other partners being the Csepel bike maker and the Germany-based Nextbike bike-share firm.

According to reports on and the kerekagy blog, the MOL Bubi system is challenged because it brings together a number of advanced technological solutions (e.g. touch-screen dock terminals, on-board computers on the bicycles, a novel on-bike locking mechanism) that have never been combined together in any bike-sharing scheme.

In response, BKK said that it had done a thorough market investigation of system providers and that the T-System consortium's offer was selected from among several competing bids. One reason the offer was chosen was that it was the least expensive, partly due to tax advantages connected to the inclusion of Hungary-based Csepel. BKK said it understood that there were "risks" with the offer due to the need to develop new software solutions from scratch. And because of this, BKK had insisted that its service contract include a rigorous set of deadlines and financial penalties.

BKK said it was clear from February that there would be difficulties with the telecommunications aspect of Bubi, and therefore the planned launch date of April 7 couldn't be set in stone. However, now that the testing phase is going into its third month, BKK is invoking its contractual protections.

It noted that consortium leader T-Systems has already issued a public call for patience as it works with its partners to get Bubi rolling.

According to the BKK communication, the consortium is liable for an HUF 1.798 million penalty for each day of delay past April 7. As of June 4, the accumulated penalty was already HUF 104 million.

According to the contract, the penalty ceiling is HUF 179.8 million and this will be reached on July 16 if Bubi doesn't launch before then. BKK says at that point, it could demand payment of the penalty and terminate the contract. However, BKK says it has 100 staff working on testing and is committed to have the project succeed if at all possible.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Szentendre City Hall takes a stand for cyclists

Incredibly, this awkward underpass is part of the Eurovelo 6 bike touristic route. The public road authority forbids cyclists from crossing the road on the surface. Photo stolen from here.
The Szentendre local government is taking a stand against Hungary's public road authority in order to allow bicycling on the main road through town.

If you want to lend  personal support to this cause, you can sign a petition posted by a Szentendre subgroup of the Hungarian Cyclists Club.

This has a bit of history. Szentendre hasn't been terribly bike friendly over the years, and as someone who works and bikes there on a daily basis, I have ongoing issues with local cycling policy.

However, the local authorities in this case are trying to do something good for cyclists. For many years, the public road manager -- Közútkezelő Kft -- has banned bicycling on Route 11, despite it being the only option for many people to cross the town north to south. On the southern part, there's a shared bike/pedestrian path that cyclists are required to use. It's old and broken up, and not pleasant to ride on. And in order to get from this path to the dedicated bike path leading to Budakalász and Békésmegyer, you have to cross Route 11 through a horrible little underpass. Crossing on the surface is illegal.

From Szentendre's public transport junction (HÉV and Volan bus stop) to the north, there's no designated bikeway at all -- yet you're still banned from riding Route 11. One  local cyclist I've met has been cited by police for riding here -- and he successfully fought the ticket in court. Hungary's traffic code expressly permits cycling on public roads unless there's an adjacent bikeway provided. So Közútkezelő Kft.'s ban on cycling on the northern stretch of  Route 11 doesn't even accord with the law.

For years, Route 11 has not served as a local road at all, only as a high-volume, high-speed highway between Budapest and Visegrad (despite a posted speed limit of 50 km/hr in town). The local authorities are now wondering if maybe they can claim the Szentendre section for their own citizens, so that people can use it and cross it, by car, foot or bike, without cowering in fear of torrential through traffic. Allowing cycling here would be a good first step.

According to my local cycling contacts, the Route 11 initiative is part of a larger plan to prioritise cycling around the town. A couple years ago, a university student from Szentendre who had researched cycling in Denmark drafted a few relevant proposals for Szentendre. Apparently some of his ideas have caught on at City Hall. I think this is great. I have nothing against the use of cars for longer distance journeys between cities. But for local travel, cycling has an important role to play, and in Szentendre, there's huge untapped potential.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Cited for biking on the bike path

Some other poor sap. Photo stolen from:
I got a HUF 10,000 citation (EUR 33) this morning for riding my bike on the bike path.

If you've ever ridden on the Buda-side Eurovelo route north from Margit hid, you can probably guess where it happened. It's on the pedestrian / bike overpass near the Tímár utca HÉV stop. Despite this being part of the official bike path, it's forbidden to ride your bike here. Signs on both ends of the bridge indicate that you're supposed to dismount and push your bike over the bridge.

Because it's on my work commute, I go over this bridge twice a day everyday. I know the rule and understand the rationale. There are lots of people on foot on this bridge because it connects a huge housing estate to the HEV stop. Even so, I figure if I slow down and refrain from mowing down children and senior citizens, I can stay on the bike and still be within the "spirit" of the law.

There's the principle, as well: Why should I have to get off my bike on a bike path? It's bad enough that they forbid cycling on public streets (as on Route 11 between Budapest and Szentendre or on any other street, come to think of it, where an adjacent, separate bike path is available (bike paths are no longer an option in Hungary, they're compulsory). But to forbid cycling on a bike path -- even a 200-metre section of a bike path --  that's really the final insult.

The officers who ticketed me patiently explained how it's only for a small section, it's for the protection of pedestrians, and how making a separate crossing for cyclists would be a huge investment. Big long load of conventional wisdom. The Hungarian government spends HUF 63 billion  for car infrastructure like the Megyeri hid, but it can't shell out an infinitesimal fraction of that to solve a problem for cyclists.

I was pleased this morning that one passing cyclist (who was canny enough to have gotten off her bike) stopped to make some of these arguments to the patrols. She didn't get anywhere with them but at least made an effort. (In retrospect, I'm a little miffed that none of my fellow cyclists warned me about the coming dragnet before I started climbing the bridge.)

But what can you do? I've crossed this bridge a thousand times without getting ticketed. My number was long overdue. If you read this, though, let it be a warning. Approach this bridge with caution -- it's cycling season, and the Obuda public space patrols have baited their hooks.

According to the kerekagy blog, a more bike-friendly solution to the problem is planned for 2015. We'll see.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Like mother, like daughter

This week, our friend Rachel brought over some toys that her daughter had outgrown, including a carrying rack for a kid's bike. Sequoia loves it. Part of being like her Mom is packing your little ones around when you're going to work and running errands.