Notwithstanding the current backsliding on the Margit híd project, the cause of sustainable transport does seem to be advancing in downtown Budapest. I'm referring to road work initiated this summer in District V which is designed to reduce car traffic; alleviate congestion, noise and pollution; and promote walking. I expect that it will also be good for cycling, although decison makers have been somewhat reticent about this aspect of the work.
The multitude of road projects downtown has been underway for months and has been well reported on. But a recent article in epiteszforum.hu (under the title "Bypass Surgury") gave a nice overview of the work and the unifying goals and strategy behind it.
The work is all part of a single HUF 5.5 billion initiative called the Main Street Project (főutca projekt) being carried out by the V. District government with the support of the central city administration. It involves an extensive reconfiguration of the main north-south artery running from Kálvin tér to István körút by way of Szabadság tér, including some squares and side streets along the way. Along with attractive new brick surfacing, tree plantings and street lamps, there will be 104 new bike racks.
District V Mayor Antal Rogán gave a press conference about the project at the end of July. As the epiteszforum article relates, he was very keen to dispel any apprehensions that it involves pedestrianising streets. In the wake of the public-relations debacle this spring concerning the artificial traffic jam experiment, and then with the parking tariff hikes in June (and from September on the Danube embankment north of Margit Bridge), municipal leaders are apparently reluctant to ask for further sacrifices from motorists.
While not going so far as to rid downtown of cars, the Main Street Project will restrict traffic flow along this corridor by expanding pedestrian space, giving priority to public transport and limiting car access by various measures to those who really need to get Downtown.
From the conceptual illustrations, it appears the streets will look very much like IX. District's Raday utca, which is about the closest thing Budapest has to shared space. In its purest form, shared space obliterates the distinctions between sidewalks (pavements) and carriageways, and the interaction between motorists and others is governed by normal social etiquette rather than traffic signals, curbs and other artificial means. On future "Main Street" roads, a few physical barriers remain, such as rain gutters, street furniture and plantings. But if properly implemented, traffic speeds will be reduced significantly, and drivers who simply want to get through downtown will choose a diffferent route, e.g., the nagykörút.
As Mayor Rogán explains it, the streets under renovation today carry 4-5 times the amount of traffic for which they were originally designed. The changes are intended to bring the traffic load down to normal.
With lighter traffic moving at lower speeds, the streets should be perfectly suited for cycling with no need for physically separated paths or even lane markings. However, since the streets will also be one way, it would be desirable if cyclists are given an exception to ride in both directions (i.e. contraflow lanes) as this would make downtown riding much more convenient and attractive.
According to Sándor Bardoczi, who wrote the epiteszforum article, the Main Street carriageways will be wide enough, at 4 metres, to accommodate contraflow lanes for cyclists. However, there's a legal obstacle to marking the lanes as such. The Hungarian traffic code (KRESZ) allows for posted signs for this purpose (see photo below), but not for painted markers on the road surface, which would be more obvious.
In any case, Bardoczi says there's no indication from V. District decision makers whether they even want to give cyclists such an allowance. It may be they'd rather defer such a potentially controversial decision to future assembly members.
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