Thursday, September 4, 2008

Best Cycling Lanes, Yet

Some new cycling lanes on Alkotmány utca in District V are the best facilities that have been implemented in Budapest, perhaps showing the city is finally taking bicycles seriously as transport. The lanes are good for a number of reasons. First, they're on the street, rather than the sidewalk, and thus integrate cyclists with motor traffic, which, in an urban context, moves at roughly the same speed. Second, there's a separate lane on both sides of the street, allowing the cyclists to move in the same direction as other road users in adjacent lanes. This is in contrast to the shared-use paths that constitute most Budapest cycling facilities (as on nearby Bajcsy-Zsilinszky út) where a single, bidirectional track runs along only one side of the street).

The closest thing we've seen to this type of facility to date is Andrássy út. But the lanes on that street are flawed because they run down a narrow gap between parked cars and the sidewalk, putting cyclists in danger of getting "doored" by passengers exiting vehicles. Check out this video (Nine Reasons Why It's Great to Bicycle in Budapest). Reason No. 8 illustrates the problem nicely. (

The Alkotmány lanes are of a type referred to in some quarters as "share rows" because they can also be driven on by ("shared" with) motorists. It's a popular solution among many road departments because they provide accommodation for cyclists without taking space from motorists. Of course, Budapest City Hall has always feared the political backlash of taking space from motorists. But there's now an emerging, quickly growing constituency of city cyclists. So some compromise is needed. The NGO MKK (, which is partly funded by Budapest City Hall, successfully lobbied for share rows on a trial basis.

I have mixed feelings about share rows. I can understand that on very narrow streets, it's impossible to provide separate lanes for both motorists and cyclists. But when share rows are used out of simple political timidity, it is running the risk that motorists won't give the lanes any respect, at all. In the 1980s, the city of Paris installed share rows on a similar trial basis, and the experiment failed for this very reason. These days, Paris is building a combination of lanes as well as facilities that are separated with physical barriers such as curbs, posts and speed dots. Cyclists are now an accepted part of traffic there, but this can be credited, at least partly, to city's firm steps to stake out cycling territory.

Perhaps share rows will work better in Budapest. I say this because, in contrast to Paris in the 1980s, cyclists in Budapest have already insinuated themselves into traffic -- with virtually no help from the city. It's my feeling that if and when the city starts building decent infrastructure, cyclists will fill it up quickly and motorists won't be able to ignore them.


Anonymous said...

These lanes look dangerous. These are very popular (with towns) in America, and cause many accidents.

Do you think lanes like this would work in Bp?

I love the blog by the way.

Greg Spencer said...


Thanks for the links. There are definitely advantages to separated lanes -- but they've got to be done right. The lanes I rode on in Berlin were brilliant. They were on the edge of the sidewalks and separated from pedestrian traffic with a row of trees or some other fairly porous barrier. A sloping curb on the left allowed you to drop down onto the street easily in case you needed to enter traffic and make a left turn. I called them "semi-separated": they're more separate than ones with just painted lines, but less separate than those that are fence off by bollards or other barriers.

The difficulty with separated lanes is that they can be more dangerous at crossings cause you're less visible to car traffic, and also that they take more space.

There's no solution that will fit every street, that's for sure.

The lanes on Budapest's Alkotmany utca represent a big step forward for Budapest, in my opinion. This is partly a comment on how poor other cycling infrastructure is in Budapest. Alkotmany is only the second street in Bp where lanes have been created on both sides of the street for both directions of traffic -- big step forward. Also understand that traffic on Alkotmany isn't particularly heavy or fast.