Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Go Guerrillas!

A writer for Bicycling Magazine emailed the other day asking about the guerrilla bike lanes in Budapest. From the wording of her query, it seemed she was already acquainted with a guerrilla bike lane movement here. She was just counting on me, as a local cycling blogger with his ear to the ground and feet in the clips, to fill her in on the nitty gritty -- its history here, some specific local examples and a quote about the importance of this particular form of civil disobedience to the larger cycling movement.

But she caught me flat-footed. It wasn't just that I didn't know the nitty gritty -- I'd never heard of guerrilla bike lanes, not in Budapest or anywhere else. In a panic to come up with some authoritative info, I fired off messages to some cycling friends to bail me out. But I got just one reply, and it offered no inside dope, only the contact details of another local cyclist.

My tentative conclusion was: there's no guerrilla bike lane movement here, or at least not one to speak of. However, by some strange coincidence, the next day, there appeared two unauthorised bike signs on the Pest end of Margit bridge -- about a 5 minute ride from our flat. The guerrilla lanes I'd been seeking.

The sign in the photo has a twin on the opposite sidewalk. I assume it's inspired by the current controversy (or more detailed info in Hungarian) about the cycling facilities envisaged for the pending renovation of Margit bridge. According to current plans, the main cycling accommodation would be a single bi-directional path on the north side of the bridge. Many transport cyclists, myself included, favour a solution with wide single-direction paths on both sides of the bridge, and a provision that allows cyclists to continue riding down the körút once off the bridge.

Not long ago, if you wanted to ride straight off the bridge and down the körút, you were confronted with a steel fence. The only open route was to go down the ramp beneath the bridge, and then to the footpath/bike path on the Danube bank. Which, of course, is of no help to those heading toward Nyugati station. But, according to the typical paternalistic philosophy of Budapest traffic planners, cyclists belong on sidewalks and out of the way of cars, regardless of the inconvenience to the former.

Of course, cyclists have always gone around the barriers in order to get to where they're going. And at some point the barriers were removed, as you can see in the picture. The improvised signs are the coup de grâce that give the go-ahead to körút-bound cyclists.

These signs mark out the first example I've seen of guerrilla bike lanes in Budapest. As far as I'm concerned, they're an act worth following.

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