Sunday, October 4, 2009

Guerrilla Activists Paint the Town Yellow

Over the last couple months, word has spread about new bicycle lanes appearing on major streets and bridges in Budapest in contradiction to long-standing city policy of keeping cyclists out of the main flow of traffic. I didn't know what to make of it, especially in light of the recently heated up complaints and demonstrations by activists about the absence of such lanes.

It turns out that the protests and lanes are both the work of cycling activists. Activity on both fronts came to a head during August and September as the city's dithering on the Margit Bridge bike accommodation came to light. While the Critical Mass crowd was organising a daylight demonstration for a proper bike lanes on the bridge, a few guerrilla activists (first noticed in Budapest last fall) were sneaking around the city under the cloak of darkness with cans of pain and a very "profi" looking bicycle stencil. Over the course of a few nights, they created bike lanes at at least three locations: on Szabadság bridge, on Margit Bridge and the Nagykörút.

Discussion about the illicit campaign had been going on from the beginning on, however I didn't catch wind of it until it turned up on a blog out of Denmark -- The author, Mikael Colville-Andersen, was commenting on a shared lane he'd seen during a recent visit to Budapest, and how such compromises might have to do until the city relents and gives us separate lanes all to ourselves. A string of Hungarian readers responded Mikael's post with the same message: "The city hasn't even given us shared lanes, yet -- we had to create them ourselves."

And so they did. The ones on Margit Bridge, pictured above, lasted only a couple weeks, and then were rendered moot as work got underway the first week of September on the span's renovation.

The ones on Szabadsád híd have elicited some positive reviews -- and some undeserved praise for City Hall. These markings offer a cycling connection to Pest for those riding down the Buda-side path on the river bank. True, simple bike markings won't embolden everyone to bike across a one-lane carriageway with impatient motorists on their tail, but they at least give some acknowledgment of pedal-powered transport.

The ones on the körút are also a welcome addition (the top image of this entry is from the körút -- taken and posted in an activist's picassa album). The officially published Budapest bike map designates the körút as a recommended bikeway, so some sort-of enabling infrastructure is only appropriate. In my opinion, as this is a heavily trafficked artery, a separated accommodation would be appropriate, perhaps in the place of existing car parking. Until the City Hall gets leadership that will take concrete steps to realise its stated goal of achieving a 10 percent modal share for cyclists by 2015, guerrilla action will have to do.

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