Monday, November 2, 2009

Righteous Paths

View Thököly út and kiskörút bikeways in a larger map
While out of town on a work trip, I missed the opening of a ground-breaking piece of cycling infrastructure: the new bike lanes on Vámház körút in front of the Nagycsarnok (Big Market Hall). The new lanes are a big step forward for local cycling development for a few reasons: they're actually painted on the carriageway, not on the sidewalks; they're on BOTH sides of the street rather than on just one (e.g., the Bajcsy-Zsilinszky path); and they're right on a main thoroughfare rather than on a parallel, less-trafficked side street.
The lanes cover a short stretch of the Kiskörút starting from Szabadság Bridge: the lane on the eastbound side runs to Lonyai utca while the opposite-side lane runs slightly longer from Kalvin tér to the bridge. The lanes are part of a major upgrade of the street, including a pavement resurfacing and a new tram stop. In fact, the whole Kiskörút -- from the bridge to Deák tér -- is being reconfigured, and when the project's through, it'll include two-sided bike lanes over the street's entire length. Allowing for a few gaps -- including the absense of a lane on the bridge itself -- this will complete a loop comprising the Buda korzó, Margit and Szabadság bridges, and the soon-to-be contiguous bikeways that roughly trace District V's eastern border.
This was actually the second two-sided cycling accommodation to open in October; a couple weeks earlier, an even longer stretch of new bike lanes were christened on the newly resurfaced Thököly út. This project was an especially nice surprise for cyclists, as the smooth new tarmac replaces a badly degraded cobblestone surface that was torture to bike on. The new lanes run along Thököly út from Dózsza György út to Gizella út.
Both the Vámház and Thököly út bike-lane projects were piggybacked onto road improvements. This is par for the course. In Budapest, bike accommodation cannot get built as stand-alone work, which has been a major hindrance to the development of a coherent network of bikeways. But for Budapest's cycling community, even piecemeal progress can be counted as a victory. (Consider that cyclists have been fighting since the start of the decade for lanes on Rákóczi út/Kossuth Lajos utca; the last time the road was resurfaced, the city broke a promise to create bikeways, saying the six-lane artery wasn't wide enough.)

However, the paths on Thököly and Vámház are especially encouraging as they finally give recognition to cycling as a serious form of transport. Until now, virtually all bikeways in Budapest have treated cyclists as recreational traffic -- they belonged in parks and riverside paths, and for the purposes to getting from home to these greenways, sidewalks and sidestreets were perfectly suitable.

The placement of the new paths on main arteries is a victory for transport cyclists, who finally have been allotted their own road space on two high-demand arterials.
An amazing thing about the kiskörút lanes is that they have actually DISPLACED CAR PARKING. See the photo below. I believe this is a first in Budapest. When plans for the lanes were first unveiled, local merchants made the inevitable complaint that they would lose car-driving customers. Naturally, the new paths will disrupt old traffic patterns, but, as happens time and again with these sorts of projects, the new patterns that emerge are often even better for local commerce. Let's hope that this will be the case once again so that the new lanes can serve as guiding examples for future street development.


GABOR said...

Tried it myself on October 25th, when it was first inaugurated. It's excellent, and a crucial precedent for future road restructuring projects.

Shop owners will probably soon discover that cyclists are just as important of a customer base as motorists. In fact, I think it's a lot easier to window shop when you're riding a bike, since you're less isolated from your environment, and if something really drew your interest, you can stop any time you wish. But even in the case of car drivers: they can probably see the shops better when their view isn't blocked by parked cars, and they can then stop and park where it's appropriate. So overall, I think it's a win-win situation.

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