Saturday, October 17, 2009

Cyclists Prevail in Bridge Lane Dispute

It looks like there will be a south-side bikeway on Margit híd, afterall. Last week at a Budapest General Assembly meeting, members voted to go forward with the original plans, as agreed last year with cycling activists. The path will make it possible for Buda-to-Pest bike traffic to stay on their own side of the street while crossing the span.

The vote reverses City Hall's earlier decision, made this summer just weeks before work started on the ongoing bridge renovation, to create just a single, two-direction bikeway on the north (Margit Island) side of the bridge. At the time, city officials said they had to remove the path because of difficulty getting necessary permits on the historically protected bridge.

Cyclists complained that forcing Pest-bound cyclists to ride on the island-side path would mean they would have to go through eight traffic lights, get off their bikes twice, and ride approximately twice distance as they would with their own, right-side accomodation. Some 500 cyclists demonstrated on the bridge on August 18 to drive the point home.

Another argument, raised by bike blogger András Földes and others, was that the plans that the city submitted with its application for EUR 6 million in EU subsidies had included bikeways on both sides of the bridge. City Hall's spokeswoman argued the bike path removal was a technical detail that the city could fudge without violating the aid contract. However, the Hungarian Development Agency, NFÜ, never conceded this point.

Now that the south-side path will be built, the city will have to apply for a city-level permit. City Assemblyman Imre Lakos claims this bureaucratic matter will not hold up progress on the bridge project.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bike to Work Finishes in Style

The fall 2009 Bike to Work campaign (Bringazz a munkaba!) draws to a close tomorrow (Oct. 16), with more than 10,000 participants having completed the minimum seven bike commutes over its four-week run. A few hundred participants have to date missed one or fewer commutes despite the rainy, windy weather during the last several days.

A campaign closing party will be organised Oct. 31, 1-5 p.m. at the Dürer kert (1146 Budapest, Ajtósi Dürer sor 19-21.). Meanwhile, bike fans are asked to submit photos and vote on a Bike to Work in Suit/Skirt photo contest. You can pull up the gallery of contest entries and back your favourite.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Children on Bikes Don't Count

I saw something that just broke my heart on my way home tonight. There was a guy about my age on a bike trying to cross rush-hour traffic on Route 11 on the south entrance to town. It's a crossing that, in high season, hundreds of people make every day, both locals and tourists on the Eurovelo 6 route. On the west side of the street is the purpose built bike path to Budapest. On the east side is the bike path into downtown Szentendre.

Despite the high bike traffic at this intersection, the only legal way to get across is via an inexplicably hard-to-find underpass that's accessible only by steep sets of stairs on both ends.

This poor father might not even have known where the underpass is -- it was dusk and there are NO signs pointing the way. And even if he knew, it wasn't a realistic option: he had a little boy on board -- couldn't have been more than two years old. He might have accomplished it by taking the little guy off the bike, carrying him through the bike tunnel, leaving him at the other end for a moment, then rushing back to get the bike. But what parent wants to leave his little child unattended along a traffic-choked roadside for even a minute?

So this father was trying to cross the road as best he could. When I saw him, he was pushing his bike through weeds on the side of the road, and coming up onto the tarmac through a gap in the metal guardrail. The father had an anxious look on his face as he was contemplating traversing four lanes of speeding traffic while ensuring the safety of the most precious thing in his life.

I'm a father of a boy just a couple years older. I empathised with this stranger. It made me want to tear someone's head off. Why in the hell isn't there a safe bicycle crossing at this intersection? Do Szentendre's transport managers have so little regard for people that they can't offer a simple and obvious street crossing for a father and his two year old boy? Unbelievable.

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.