Monday, September 20, 2010

Heavy traffic on Little Ring Road

The first results are in from the bicycle counter installed this summer on the kiskörút (Little Ring Road). It shows that the not-quite-year-old lanes already carry loads of bike traffic. On busy days, the northbound lane carried as many as 1,500 cyclists. On average, there's as much bike traffic there as on a similar street in Vienna.

The counter, installed above the north-bound bike path in front of the National Museum, was christened on July 2. There have been some teething problems with the system -- a week's worth of data was lost earlier this month -- but by now enough data's been collected to give a basic picture of traffic patterns on this principle downtown bike route.

The key numbers (as showing on the Hungarian Cyclists' Club website):
  • average number of passing cyclists per workday: 981
  • average number per weekend day: 479
  • average hourly traffic during evening rush hour: 75
  • Maximum daily traffic: 1,507
  • Maximum cyclists per hour: 155
Along with this data, a spot check by human counters showed that the cyclists riding on the lane were just 85 percent of the total bike traffic. About 10 percent of cyclists ride on the sidewalk and the remaining 5 percent ride on the tram tracks. From this, we can deduce that the total average for northbound bike traffic on weekdays was about 1,150. And maybe a similar number going the other direction.

There are a couple things worth remarking on here. First, the fact that there are twice as many cyclists on weekdays as on weekends shows you that downtown bike traffic is mainly about commuting. The majority of cyclists aren't just goofing around (not that there's anything wrong with that) -- they're people going to work and school, running errands, going shopping, getting kids to daycare. This is the basic kind of circulation that keeps the city and its economy alive. City Hall should support it as such.

In regard to the scale of the traffic, it's hard to say anything without some benchmarks. These are the first official bike traffic counts ever made on the kiskörút, so although it's a safe bet the numbers are up substantially from before the lanes were created, we don't have the data to prove this.

One interesting comparison, though, is that the average daily traffic for this period is approximately the same as the traffic at a comparable spot in downtown Vienna: in front of city's West Train Station. And Vienna has six times as big a cycling network. The Austrian capital's also long been regarded by cycling advocates here in Budapest as a model to follow and emulate. It would be really something if Budapest cycling levels are already on par with those in the supposedly more advanced city.

But we can't conclude much yet. Not with a couple months of data from one counter. The value of this data stream will grow with time, as the numbers come in and year-to-year trends emerge. And hopefully, several more counters will be installed in various locations around the city (as in Vienna and many other cities). This would give a more complete picture of cycling in the city: where the greatest need is, what type of cycling infrastructure attracts more cyclists, how to get the most out of infrastructure investments.

With this data in hand, cyclists -- as well as our allies in city leadership -- will have a firmer basis on which to make our requests.

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