Monday, August 31, 2009

Danish Bike Wave Hits Budapest

The Danish Embassy will co-host the travelling bike exhibition "Dreams on Wheels" September 4-25 at the VAM Design Centre in District VII.

According to the press release, the show aims "to promote cycling as an alternative form of transportation and to show how the benefits derived from it relate to important topics such as climate change, energy conservation, the environment and health."

It will feature photos and posters along with a variety of actual bicycles, both ordinary and "curious kinds" the release promises.

Originally held at the dawn of the cycling revolution in Paris in 2002, the exhibition has since visited Toronto, Moscow, Tokyo and Riga among other capitals.

Some accompanying events

Did I mention about the part about the famous Copenhagen Cycling Chic blogger Mikael Colville Andersen??

For further info
  • Counsellor Jens Chr. Andersen (Royal Danish Embassy in Budapest)
    E- mail:
  • Henrietta Hajdu (
  • Hunor Kiraly

Friday, August 28, 2009

Bike-Path Removal Violates Aid Contract

By removing the south-side bikeway from the Margit híd renovation plans, Budapest City Hall has violated conditions of HUF 6 billion (EUR 22 million at today's rate) in EU assistance for the project, according to a report on by bike blogger András Földes.

When City Hall applied for the support via the National Development Agency (NFÜ), the plans included three paths for bikes. These comprised two side-by-side paths for two directions of traffic on the north side of the bridge -- primarily for those accessing Margit Island for recreational purposes. On the south side was a single, one-way path for cyclists going from Buda to Pest for transportation purposes.

On the basis of a renovation plan that included this cycling plan, the NFÜ awarded the City an EU grant of HUF 6 billion, which would cover almost a third of the total project price of HUF 20.8 billion (EUR 77.1 million).

However, in recent weeks it came to light that the plan had been amended to remove the south side lane altogether. This provoked letters of protest from the Hungarian Cyclists Club and a hastily organised demonstration of more than 500 cyclists on the bridge August 18. The cyclists' problem with the new plan is that for Buda-to-Pest bike traffic, a one-side-only path will mean going through eight stop lights, getting off and back on your bike at least twice along the way, and riding about twice the distance as would be necessary with a south-side bikeway.

Not only did the city violate its promise to cyclists, but it has also broken its signed agreement with the NFÜ. This states that if the objective of the aid is jeapardised in whole or in part, details, documents and facts of plan amendments must be sent immediately to the NFÜ. The deadline for such a notice is eight calendar days from the change. More than that time has already lapsed since the changes were revealed, and no notice has been sent.

For its part, City Hall spokeswoman Dora Czuk said the removal of the bike line was not a type of change that the city would have to agree with NFÜ.

But the NFÜ seemed to think differently. According to the Index report, when NFÜ Director Tamás Lukovich was asked about the matter, he said, "In the data sheet of the project contract, a south side lane is also included, and to date we have not received a request for amendment."

Here's hoping that the sight of HUF 6 billion swirling down the drain will finally stir Mayor Demszky into fulfilling his pledge on Margit híd.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Cyclists Get a Hearing on Bridge Plans -- Today

According to a Tuesday post by Critical Mass organiser Gábor Kürti, the matter of cycling accommodation on Margit híd will be taken up by the city's Operations Committee today (Wednesday). It will involve a consultation with "all concerned parties," according to a statement issued by SZDSZ Assembly Member Imre Lakos.

This is not much notice for those wishing to participate, but seems par for the course considering the city didn't even GIVE notice when they removed the south side bikeway from the bridge renovation plans. That said, here are the details:
Time: 1 p.m. Wednesday, August 26
Place: Mayor's Office (1052 Budapest, Városház utca 9) 2nd Floor, Room 277

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Byrne Compares Cycling Cities

As a sort-of postscript to my post last month on David Byrne, here's some other news on what the head Talking Head is doing regarding bikes: He's written a 294-page book about his experiences bicycling in cities around the world called Bicycle Diaries. The listing on says it'll be released September 19.

When my wife and I got a chance to talk to him after his July 15 show at Budapest's Millenáris Teatrum, he told us that he has a fold-out bike in his tour bus that he rides whenever and wherever he has a chance. This would have given him an easy opportunity to push his new book on us (Amazon list price: $17.13). But he's probably too dignified and modest for that type of thing -- I mentioned in my post how, when Kristin introduced herself to him, he replied, as if he were just another member of the crew: "Hi, I'm David."

From the advance articles on Bicycle Diaries (a short review of the book and a longer piece including an interview, both in the UK's Guardian), we learn that it covers cycling experiences in cities such as Berlin, Buenos Aires, Istanbul, Manila, Sydney and Detroit. I didn't see any reference to Budapest, which is probably because the book was finalised well before his recent visit here. (His previous shows in Hungary were with the Talking Heads in the 1980s -- possibly before he became the cycling zealot that he is now.)

He does write some words about Budapest in his blog, and he has a very positive impression: "I love this city!" he exclaims, then goes on about all the construction projects he saw downtown, which reminded him of the massive rebuilding of East Berlin after the political changes:

For now, everything is possible (sort of), and everything is in flux. Alternative arts spaces appear and disappear. Exhibitions and performances are held in former industrial spaces.

Hey! I think it was Kristin who told him about how the Millenáris was created from the old Ganz Electrical Factory. Happy to be of service, David!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Margit Híd Closed -- Awesome!

From noon today, Margit híd is closed to car traffic. This is the busiest of Budapest's six car bridges and it's been a favourite subject of water-cooler talk for months. Budapest somehow got through the Szabadság híd closure, but this one -- some people are wondering if it'll just lead to the collapse of the economy and a permanent re-division of Buda from Pest.

My perspective is somewhat different. We live in a building on Margit körút less than 200 metres from the Buda bridgehead (pretty much just upstairs from the Bem cinema, for locals). We're anticipating that traffic out front will drop dramatically, which will bring relative tranquility to a neighbourhood whose traffic levels are not a big selling point. Our view is also coloured by our lack of a car. The planned traffic changes would only seem to benefit us.

One thing that isn't clear is how the closure will affect bike and pedestrian traffic. We've heard so many contradictory rumours about it. The latest news on City Hall's website doesn't mention  this aspect although a May article in quoted Mayor Demszky promising that bike and pedestrian passage will be ensured throughout the project. I hope he hasn't reversed himself, as he's prone to do concerning important cycling and pedestrian issues. Living so close to the bridge, it'll be easy for me to follow how it really plays out.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Another Year, Another Run-in with a Car

Riding into Szentendre yesterday morning, I got broadsided by a motorist who didn't bother to look before coming out of a grocery store parking lot. It had been just over a year since I was hit by a truck on the same morning commute, that accident also a result of the driver not looking before accelerating out of a parking lot.
I was riding north on Route 11, the main road into town, and, as is my preference, on the carriageway rather than the broken-up sidewalk, which is what passes as the designated bike route here. I was on the right edge of the curb lane going an estimated 28 kph, and was passing by the north entrance to the Lidl market parking lot. A compact car exiting the lot was waiting to turn right into my lane. If the car had waited as expected, I would have passed 2-3 metres by its front bumper. But at the last instant, I could sense in peripheral vision that it was accelerating right into me. It hit the rear of the bike, knocking it out from under me while I tumbled to the pavement. The bike was sent scraping across the pavement about 10 metres away into the middle of the next lane.

I got myself up and turned toward the motorist, who had already pulled to the curb and was out of the car. I was so stunned by what had happened -- there was nothing to explain it. It was broad daylight, and there are no visual obstructions at that entrance, nothing but clear sightlines hundreds of metres in both directions. I held up my hands, as if to say, "WHAT ... THE ... FUCK!!!?"

I wanted to rip someone's head off. However, the driver -- a women in her late 50s -- appeared more shaken than I was. She asked if I was hurt, should she call a doctor? I told her I wasn't hurt -- just scraped up. I said we were both lucky and asked why she didn't look before she came out of the lot. She said she didn't see me ("Nem latom!"). And then she broke down into convulsions of tears. I ended up having to console her -- although I didn't go so far as to tell her it's alright. It's not alright to drive a 2,000 kg vehicle without watching where you're going.

This morning, as some deeper aches and pains are coming to bloom beneath the scrapes, I'm struggling to draw useful lessons from the incident. When I was last hit, I was on a separate bike path next to the road and I drew some lessons from the incident, one being that when motorists are turning onto a road, they pay more attention to traffic on the carriageway proper than they do to the sidewalks and bike paths.

But in this latest collision, I WAS on the road. The driver simply didn't look before she turned.

Not to excuse this driver, but a general problem in Szentendre is that very few bicyclists are on the roads. And when drivers aren't used to looking for cyclists, they tend to miss them.

Just the day before my accident, I was cc'd on a citizen's complaint about the poor cycling facility along Route 11 within Szentendre. What's needed, the writer said, is an allowance for cyclists to ride on the carriageway.

The official response -- from the Magyar Közút Zrt. -- was that Route 11 is being used to its capacity, that cyclists would cause an unacceptable "interruption of traffic flow" and that, anyway, "parallel cycling infrastructure exists".

Well, the "infrastructure" that exists is a sidewalk, nothing that was created specifically for cyclists. Not only is this "bike path" unsuitable in its conception, it's in horrible disrepair: badly broken up on some segments, riven with cracks elsewhere and merely a mud track in others.

The only known way to improve safety conditions for cyclists is to increase the levels of cycling. This happens not by shunting them off onto dirt paths, but by prioritising them on city streets and giving them all due consideration for their safety. On the five-lane-wide Route 11, this is easily achievable. The only obstacle is political will.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

500-Plus Demonstrate for Both-Side Bikeways

This was the scene shortly after 6 p.m. Tuesday as a reported 500-plus fed-up Budapest bicyclists came out to demonstrate their rage at the Demszky administration for breaking promises on the renovation of Margit híd.

I was there to lend my support and, as you can see from these pictures, I got lots of pictures of the backsides of the few dozen bicyclists ahead of me in the procession. (I find it impossible to capture the enormity of bike demonstrations with a camera. Whether it's a few hundred people or 80,000, my photo record of the event consists almost entirely of blurry images of the back ends of the dozen or so people who were in my immediate vicinity.)

Kristin joined me as did Lance, he for the first time on his own two wheels. We were a bit concerned whether his riding skills were up for the tire-to-mudguard riggor of a Critical Mass-type bike demonstration. But his pokey pace was perfectly in step with the halting progression of the ride, and he didn't have -- and didn't cause, as far as I could tell -- any accidents.

I was happy to see that we weren't the only parents exploiting our children for political purposes. As you can see in some of the photos, there were lots of cute kids on hand as photo fodder for journalists willing to give us some sympathetic coverage.

After the demonstration, guys with bullhorns -- presumably with the the organising groups Hungarian Cycling Club and/or -- advised us to streer off the bridge on the Pest side and gather at Olympic Park, where I got my only decent (sort-of) crowd shot.

We sat there on the grass for 10 minutes or so and then one of the bullhorn guys thanked everyone for participating and said a few other words I couldn't make out. That was pretty much it.

Who knows what the postscript might be. This was a demo about the Mayor backtracking on a promise made last year that the soon-to-start bridge renovation would include cycling accommodation on BOTH sides of the bridge for both directions of traffic. Then this past week -- with the bridge closure scheduled for August 22 -- it is revealed that accommodation on the south side of the bridge has been erased from the plans.

The mayor's office gave multiple excuses for the reversal, but the way it was revealed -- at the last minute, and only after the cycling lobby had called out the mayor on some contradictory PR materials -- it speaks volumes about his (tepid) commitment to everyday cycling.

A recent post on lists dozens of supportive media reports that have come out in recent days. We can only hope that the public will respond and spur the mayor to make good on his pledge.

Monday, August 17, 2009

City Hall, Cyclists at Loggerheads over Margit Bridge

So it seems the Mayor really DOES want to sell cyclists short on the Margit híd project. On Friday, Mayor Demszky's office issued a statement saying that, basically, there will be bike accommodation on just one side of the bridge (the Margit Island side) and not on both sides, as laid out in a plan hashed out last year between the City and cycling NGOs.

As reported by Metropol, the city claims that because Margit híd is part of the UNESCO protected Budapest panorama, it is impossible to obtain a necessary permit to widen the bridge on the south side of the bridge.

In the same communique, City Hall says the planned cyclist demonstration on Tuesday is not only unnecessary but dangerous.

Meanwhile, the Hungarian Cyclists Club continues to press the argument that restricting accommodation to a single, two-direction bikeway on the north side will be dangerous. And, of course, it will. The path simply won't be wide enough for cyclists traveling in opposite directions to pass each other safely. And for Pest-bound cyclists, the inconvenience of crossing traffic to get onto the north-side bikeway will mean that many will simply stay on the southern carriageway and ride unprotected in motor traffic.

To my mind, human safety trumps a puristic approach to historical preservation. Surely a sensible compromise can be reached in which cyclists get safe, European-standard accommodations (i.e., bike paths/lanes on both sides of the bridge) without unduly tarnishing the Budapest panorama.

Concerning the cycling demonstration, participants are asked to gather between 5:30 and 6 p.m. on the north side close to the point where it connects to the island. There will be a traditional, Critical Mass-style bike lifting at 6 p.m. -- so the key is to show up before then. Afterwards, the cyclists will make one or two circuits back and forth across the bridge. Finally, there will be a discussion about the matter at Jaszai Mari tér on the Pest end of the bridge.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Main Street Project a Step Forward

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 (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.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Mayor Tries to Allay Margit Bridge Worries

According to the most recent post by Hajtas Pajtas boss Gábor Kürti on, the mayor's office has issued a letter promising the plans for cycling accommodation on Margit Bridge WILL NOT be changed.

This was in response to an open letter sent by the Hungarian Cyclists Club protesting an apparent renegging on an agreement City Hall made last year to ensure cycling lanes on both the Pest- and Buda-bound carriageways of Margit Bridge. The latest PR materials regarding the impending bridge refurbishment indicated bike accommodation on just one side of the bridge.

Deputy Mayor Miklós Hagyó, the cycling club's main sponsor at City Hall, took up the issue with the city's chief architect Éva Beleznay, who promised to address the issue at the City Council's meeting following the August 20 holiday. The positive assurances from the mayor himself came shortly afterwards.

Despite all this -- and because of a history of broken promises to the cycling community over the past several years -- the previously called demonstation at on Margit Bridge is still on at Tuesday, 6 p.m.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

City Betrays Cyclists with Margit Bridge change

Shafted again!! I can't believe the latest news about the debacle of the reconstruction of Margit Bridge. First, budget overruns of some HUF 17.1 billion (EUR 62 million) let the City Council to nix scores of other transport projects, including several bike paths. Now the cycling accommodations on the bridge itself have been squeezed.

Last fall, City Hall and the cycling community agreed on a cycling lanes on both sides of the bridge (as pictured above). The Hungarian Cyclists' Club announced the compromise in November. The one on the north side would have been a dual-direction path to ease access to Margit island while the one on the south side would have been a one-way path going with the flow of Pest-bound motor traffic.

According to the latest plans, explained in this post (and pictured above), the south side accommodation has been removed altogether. (Comepare the photos and see where a cyclist is on the left-hand side in picture one, and missing in picture 2). The north side, bidirectional path is all that remains for cyclists.

This would be a major step back from the agreed plans, which would have finally given cyclists a safe, convenient track on both sides of the street. This would have allowed Pest-bound cyclists to pass over the bridge without wasting their time on each end crossing the street to get to and from the north side path. The hope was that the dual lanes on Margit hid might be a first step in having dual lanes or paths all around the körút. Now these hopes appear in jeopardy. 

Cyclists at have announced a demonstration against this betrayal at 6 p.m. Tuesday, August 18 at the bridge. The post said details are to come.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Rolling with the Sziget

It's that time of year, again: The Sziget Festival opens tonight on Hajógyari island on the north side of town, bringing a flood of young revellers from across Europe for five nights of rock and roll. With daily tickets going for HUF 10,500 (EUR 42) a pop, I'll likely give it a miss. However, such is the magnitude of the event — approximately 80,000 people attend annually — that there's no escaping its impact.

Among other things, the festival's front door sits smack dab in the middle of the Buda-side bikeway. During the past year, the Buda quay has been closed to motor traffic and has become a de facto bicycle expressway. Now that the Sziget's on, the segment of the quay by the event entrance has been closed down and turned into Sziget "terület". That means cyclists riding the quay have to take a small detour (which actually traces the "official" Euro Velo 6 route). The blue line in the map shows the detour.

I'm not one to complain about the Sziget disruption. I figure the opportunities for fun and good music are worth the temporary inconveniences that it causes. Also, the Sziget organisers were really in on the ground floor of the Budapest bicycle renaissance: they started offering on-site, guarded bicycle parking for festival visitors 10 years ago -- at a time when the local Critical Mass was just a twinkle in Gábor Kürti's eye.

According to Sziget employee Ákos Dominus, the free-of-charge bike parking was used last year by 800-1,000 vistors a day. That's up from 200-300/day just five-six years ago, he said.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Street Work Leaves Bike Path in Worse Shape

Arriving back to Budapest from summer vacation, I was pleased to see that the Buda-side korzó, after months of being ripped up due to road work, was again open for cycling. I was down there with my four-year-old boy, Lance, who started riding without training wheels just this spring. As Lance is still a little wobbly on his pint-sized one-speed, the korzó is the safest place for him to ride in our neighbourhood.

During the road work (involving a reconstruction of the No. 19 tram line which runs alongside the korzó), we'd limited our ride from Margit híd to Batthyányi tér. But this morning, seeing that the mess along the tram line was cleared up, we ventured on past Batthyányi toward the Chain Bridge.

I immediately noticed that the patchwork they'd done following the construction was awful. During the project, they'd dug a trench about 30-40 cm wide right down the middle of the korzó to install a rain gutter. After filling it in, they capped it not with tarmac, which is what the path is surfaced with, but with concrete. Not everywhere, though. In scattered segments, for some reason, they filled it with asphalt.

At any rate, the job was incredibly shoddy, the worst part being the deep grooves along the seam between the old surface and the patchwork. As any cyclist knows, these kinds of longitudinal grooves are a major hazard, as bike tires are prone to slide into them and throw you off balance. In the 8 years I've been riding in Budapest, I've had three fairly nasty falls, two of them because of these sorts of patches.

No sooner did I take note of this crappy patch job than Lance goes tumbling over his handlebars after getting his tire caught in one of these grooves. Luckily, his injuries were only a scraped knee and scuffed-up palms. He cried a little bit but dusted himself off and got back on his bike. Even so, it's hard
to overstate how angry I got that the city thinks so little of its cycling (and walking and skating) citizens, that they would do such a half-assed patch job on one of our main promenades.
Hundreds, and on summer weekends, thousands, of citizens use this path each day, not just for recreation, but increasingly for daily transportation. With all the cracks, tree-root bumps and poorly done patches, the korzó is long overdue for a complete resurfacing. The work on the adjacent tram track provided a prime opportunity for such a renewal. Instead, the work finished with the path in an even more degraded state.

I keep reading about City Hall's progressive plans to double cycling's modal share and launch a world-class bike sharing system. Meanwhile, it can't manage such a basic task as bike-path maintenance. It seems to me that the cycling movement goes forward in Budapest not because of City Hall's efforts but despite them.