Friday, July 15, 2011

Pictograms Bridge Differences on Margit Híd

Hungarian Cyclist Club President János László straddles a freshly painted pictogram.
Last night, painting crews festooned Margit Bridge with brilliant yellow chevrons and pictograms of bicycles. They appear on the outside lanes of both the north and south carriageways and signify that cyclists, if they choose, are free to mingle with motor traffic in either direction. As part of the deal, the speed limit on the bridge has been reduced from 50 to 40 km/hour with the hope of improving the comfort and safety for cyclists.

I went out there last night to witness the painting, and I had plenty of company. RTL Club and Hír TV had cameras out, Hungarian Cycle Chic was snapping photos and -- no surprise -- Hungarian Cyclist Club President János László (pictured) was there to see the implementation of the traffic compromise he helped broker.

I asked him about the pictogram, whether it's really an acceptable substitute for a proper bike lane. "You know why I like it? It's a symbol of cooperation between the drivers of cars and the drivers of bicycles. It's the first example of this in Budapest."

The carriageway solution won't take away from the planned cycling accommodation on the bridge's sidewalks. On the northern (island side) sidewalk, a bright red lane will soon open as a dual-direction bikeway. On both ends of the bridge, the red lane will have ramps down to the road to facilitate entrance and exit for cyclists riding on the körút from Pest to Buda.

The south-side sidewalk will have no separate lane, but will be open to cyclists nonetheless as a shared-use path with pedestrians.

The arrangement at least tries to serve and respect everyone's needs, including cyclists of many persuasions. I can see reasonable options for everyone here, from professional riders with their courier bags to children with training wheels.
With the sidewalks still under works, a sign remains on the south side telling cyclists to walk their bikes. Not many do.
The changes seem to respect other road users, too. Tram passengers will hardly be affected -- so long as cyclists mind the traffic signal and let people cross the zebra at the Margit Island stop of the 4-6. And, of course, motorists still have their four lanes of traffic -- they'll just have to share two of them.
Accompanying the pictograms will be signs at both bridgeheads featuring a car and cyclist being all lovey-dovey. The still partially shrouded signs were designed by Peter Kukorelli, the same guy who came up with Budapest's "P" shaped bike racks.
Before work began on the bridge about two years ago, there were no cycling accommodations at all. This shortcoming became problematic as cycling levels grew, especially during summer weekends. During the couple summers prior to the renovation, the city began closing down one lane of traffic on weekends for cyclists going to and from the island.

About three years ago, when the renovation was in the planning stage, City Hall agreed to proposals by the Hungarian Cycling Club to include cycling accommodation on both the north and south sides of the bridge.

Then, just weeks before the work was due to start in the summer of 2009, it was learned that the City had unilaterally scratched the south-side bikeway. This provoked a demonstration of some 500 cyclists and then some effective reporting by Hungarian bike blogger András Földes (my summary here) about how the city could lose EU project funding because its grant contract was based on plans that included bikeways on both sides of the bridge.

The City recanted, and then recanted on its recant, and then a new mayor came in, and then the Hungarian Cyclists Club broadcast a YouTube protest saying that the evolving work appeared to short change cyclists ... . Which is all to say that it's been a long road.

But it seems now that this chapter is finally coming to a close. And it seems the pictogram was crucial in wrapping things up. Hard-core advocates had long wanted proper bike lanes on the bridge, but this was legally impossible without sacrificing car lanes. And, naturally, no city administration wants to go there.

The pictograms, a traffic management tool introduced in 2010's modification of the traffic code (KRESZ), raised the possibility of a compromise. They create quasi-bike lanes that fit into, rather than displace, car lanes. They're something along the lines of shared space and it will be interesting to see how many cyclists make use of them.

Without a doubt, though, the whole exercise demonstrated, yet again, that lobbying and political activism can bear fruit. And if advocates have an appetite for more, they might even get the big banana: bikeways around the whole körút. Afterall, what sense does it make to have them on just the Margit Bridge section of this street? In the interest of formal harmony, the bikeways on the bridge need to extend in both directions of the ring road and complete the circle.

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