On a recent weekday, about six bikes passed on the Nagykörút for every 100 cars. And the hour-by-hour traffic pattern matched that of normal commuters, with morning and evening peaks and another spurt during lunch hour. These people aren't biking for fun or relaxation -- they're trying get somewhere.
These are a couple of conclusions of a 12-hour traffic count performed on a random weekday earlier this month by volunteers for the Hungarian Cyclists Club. The results support what many of us Budapest cyclists have long suspected -- that our numbers have grown into a significant part of daily traffic in downtown.
The count took place on Wednesday, Sept. 9. Counters set up at two stations on körút, one at Blaha Lujza tér which monitored traffic going in the direction of Nyugati station, the other at Oktogon monitoring traffic going the opposite direction. The counters worked in two-hour shifts from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and tried to count all bikes, whether going on the road itself, the sidewalks or the 4-6 Tram tracks.
Then coordinator Virag Bence-Kovács, a staff engineer for the cycling club, compared the collected data with car counts made by automatic, magnetic sensors embedded in the tarmac. The cycling club's count did not consider traffic on foot or public transport.
Some might say six bikes for 100 cars doesn't sound like a lot. But when you consider that this is on one of the most car-congested, least bike-friendly streets in the city, it's a remarkable figure. The results broke down as follows: a third to half the cyclists were riding on the sidewalk (depending on direction), despite the hassles of getting stuck behind pedestrians and dodging between signposts. The rest were out amongst motor traffic, sucking fumes and picking their way between parked cars and moving ones. The number braving the 4-6 tram tracks turned out to not be a significant number, less than 1 percent.
Over the entire day, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., 1,741 cyclists were counted on the körút. Why do they do it? Based on my own experience, I'd guess it's because the city provides no better alternative. Designated bike routes tend to be along out-of-the-way sidestreets and up on sidewalks, and they aren't worth bothering with.
Traffic planners argue it's not safe to put bike paths on main arteries such as the körút because it would put cyclists in danger's way. But the traffic count proves the futility of this approach. Even without a path or lane, thousands of cyclists risk life and limb on körút week in, week out.
So what if accommodation was given? You might assume it would just put MORE people in danger's way. But the studies show just the opposite: the more cyclists on the streets, the fewer accidents there are. The reason is that motorists can see groups of cyclists more easily than they can spot the odd, individual cyclist. It's also because when space is clearly demarcated for cyclists, all road users -- motorists, pedestrians and the cyclists themselves -- know where the boundaries are.
This month's traffic count provides important empirical support for an argument that the Hungarian Cyclists' Club and Critical Mass organisers are making with increasing urgency: Budapest needs bike lanes on the körút!
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