Thursday, March 24, 2011

Ninja count

It's cycling season again, and one of the principals at wants to know what portion of cyclists in Hungary ride with lights at night. He's calling for volunteer counters around the country to make sample bike-traffic counts along routes of their choosing between 7 and 7:20 p.m. on Friday.

You're just asked to count passing cyclists for 20 minutes while noting how many have just a front lamp, haw many have just a rear lamp, how many have both, and how many have neither. You then upload the results as a comment to the original blog post. The full details are there (though only in Hungarian).

The call for volunteers doesn't say what inspired the idea, though the issue of bike lighting is certainly a timely one. Legal requirements on bike lighting were tightened up in last year's revision of the Hungarian Traffic Code. Cyclists are now required to not only have front and rear lamps after dark, but also side reflectors on their wheel spokes, and, if you're riding outside city limits, a reflective vest on your person.

During last fall's Critical Mass in Budapest, police, for the first time ever, were handing out citations to participants without all the requisite bling. In recent months, the national police have warned they'll make extra effort this spring to enforce cycling rules. They've threatened to screen bikes for required lamps with random checks that might even take place during daylight hours. (Tip to police: spotting lampless bikes is easier after dark.)

Anyway, I have nothing against legal requirements for bike lights. Even in bike-friendly Netherlands, this is one area where the authorities are quite fussy with cyclists. I won't get on a high horse in this matter, having found myself past dark on many occasions with lights that were dim to dark because of dead batteries. That said, the "bike ninjas" speeding through the Budapest night without lights are a pet peeve of mine. It seems the minimalist aesthetic among some fixie riders can make them averse to putting anything on their bikes, including lamps. Ironically, unlit cyclists are probably most dangerous when they're on bike paths, where there are no car headlights or street lighting to illuminate them reflectively.

But aside from puristic fixie riders and the occasional battery-bereft duffer (me!), it is my impression that the majority of riders DO use lights past dark. My ballpark guess would be 80 percent. We'll see in a couple days how close I am.

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