Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bike Shop with Beer on Tap

Bike repairs are done right out front. The price list is next to the hat.
Following on a recent post about how bicycles and cycling are being used as a marketing tool, here's an idea that's in the same vein -- sort-of: a bierstube on Római part with a bike wheel on its logo and a conspicuously placed bicycle repair stand out front.

You can't beat the riverside seating at Fellini. Grab a beer, sink into one of these chairs,
and dig your toes into the gravel. Bikram yoga's got nothing on this.
The Fellini Római Kultúrbisztró is a relatively new addition to the many outdoor bars and restaurants along the Római bank. It's a bit to the north of the main cluster of them, and therefore in a quieter, greener setting. It's a tiny place with a seating deck right down on the water and a short drinks list that includes both bottled and draught Belgian beer, including Delirium Tremens.

Come to think of it, I'm not sure if the bike service is used to attract customers to the bar, or vice versa. Római part, being on the Eurovelo 6 route on the main Buda-side bikeway, has always attracted lots of bike traffic. I suppose if you open a bar here, you're going to get cycling customers with or without a bike-repair service. But the Fellini definitely has the market sewn up for cyclists in distress. At any rate, it's a natural place for a bike service -- it's surprising it took so long for someone to think of it.

This is the main cluster of Római part beer joints. Bikes seem to have always been the preferred way to arrive.
They do everything from oiling your chain (HUF 200) to adjusting brakes and gears (HUF 600 each) to chain replacement (HUF 1,100). And the Fellini would seem to be a pleasant place to wait for the work to be done.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Twelve more km of bike routes

Handy file photo of improvements to Varsányi Irén utca in May 2009 
With help from the European Union, Budapest will add 12.4 kilometres to its bike-route network by October.

The planned cycling routes, targeted at commuters coming from the outer agglomeration into the centre, are to be completed by October, according to a report in kerekagy.

The project is expected to receive HUF 694.4 million (EUR 2.6 million) of which HUF 439.6 million (EUR 1.63 million) will come from the EU.

The new routes would add substantially to the city’s existing cycling infrastructure, which runs approximately 187 km, including lanes, dedicated bike paths and other routes. The new bikeways would comprise six separate sections in districts III, X, XVII and XXI.

One route would improve cycling commutes from Csepel Island toward downtown along a 2.9 km stretch of Szabadkikötő út. With a link across the Danube on Kvassay Bridge, it would include two, secure, 30-place bike racks en route.

A second route would run 1.2 kilometres, joining Csepel Island to Pesterzébet across the Gubacsi Bridge. It would include new 32-space bike racks in three places.

Then on Pesti út, two routes would be created in two phases to allow better access to the Metro stop at Örs Vezer tér. Of these two routes, totalling 6.9 km improvement, 2.7 km would be a signed route along low-traffic side streets. Seven bike racks would be installed along the way for a total 66 bikes.
A fifth bike roadwork would connect Kőbánya központ with Örs Vezer tér along a 1.5 km section of Fehér út.

The last element would be in Óbuda, with a bikeway along Bécsi út and Nagyszombat utca. Of this, 800 metres would be a painted lane and 1,400 metres would be a signed route. Along this route, 14 racks for a total of 160 bikes would be installed.

(If this was as tedious to read as it was to write, you can see the maps here.)

During a press announcement, David Vitezy, Managing Director of the Budapest Transport Centre (BKK), indicated that cycling investments would be guided by a more strategic vision than in the past. Infrastructure shouldn’t be built route by route, but rather as an integrated network, he said.

Part of the reason for a more focused approach is an impending investment in a new city bike-sharing system. Comprising 1,000 bikes and 74 docking stations, the system is scheduled to open in the spring of 2012 at a cost of EUR 4.79 million.

“With that many bikes, there’s already a need for a new traffic order,” Vitezy said.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Hungary Beats Denmark in Cycling

Image stolen from
Here's a riddle for you (and don't blurt out the answer if you've already heard it!): We all know that the cycling-est country in Europe is the Netherlands. But which country do you suppose comes in second place?

Denmark or Sweden, perhaps?

Those would have been my first guesses, as well. However, according to a Gallup poll published earlier this year by the European Commission, the second cycling-est country in the EU is -- drum roll, please -- Hungary!

What the hell??

I should qualify my terms, here. The study in question, entitled "Future of Transport", was commissioned by the EC's Directorate General Mobility of Transport, and focussed on Europeans' transport habits, their reasons for choosing particular modes, and what it might take for them to switch to, or make greater use of, more sustainable modes than the private car.

It's pretty dry stuff that's intended as guidance material for policy makers and the like. But what made it interesting to me were the results to QUESTION D7: What is the main mode of transport that you use for your daily activities?

Naturally, the Europeans who most favour the bicycle are the Dutch: a full 31.2 percent say it's their main mode of transport.

The Danes ranked quite high, as well, with 19 percent naming the bicycle as their main mode. But that was good enough only for third place; the Danes were slightly edged out by the Hungarians, with 19.1 percent claiming to travel mainly by bicycle.

These survey results were published back in March but didn't catch my eye until I saw mention of them in a recent newsletter of the European Cyclists Federation.

The figures didn't take me completely by surprise. Years ago, when I was studying for a degree in environmental sciences, a Hungarian professor mentioned that prior to the political changes, cycling had something on the order of a 30 percent modal share in this country. However, when asked to cite a source for this statistic, he came up empty.

Still, I'd heard other claims about cycling's popularity in Hungary. During research for my thesis about utility cycling in Budapest, I interviewed an urban planner who said that the bike's modal share in Debrecen, Hungary's second largest city, was 20 percent.

And just recently, I saw a survey published by the Hungarian Statistical Office that showed cycling had an 11 percent share in the country's "distribution of transport modes" (közlekedési módok megoszlása). (There are probably methodological reasons for the 8 percent discrepancy between the Gallop and the Hungarian survey results, but I don't know what they are.)

No doubt, part of the reason I find it hard to accept that Hungary is a front-runner in European cycling is that I don't get out of Budapest enough. Although the city is home to perhaps the largest Critical Mass movement in the world, and is at least a regional front-runner in terms of urban cycling, the fact remains that Budapest is a big city, and big cities are, by default, hostile environments for cycling.

The rest of Hungary is comprised of much, much smaller communities. Even Debrecen, with 200,000 inhabitants, is just a tenth the size of the capital. Less than half the country's population live in cities larger than 10,000 inhabitants. The rest are in very small towns, villages or unincorporated areas.

This is why, despite all the hard work and accomplishments of Budapest's cycling movement over the past six years, the city remains a black spot on the national cycling map. The same Hungarian survey showing an 11 percent share for cycling nationally put the figure for Budapest at a paltry 1.1 percent (2009 figure!).

On my few visits to villages in rural Hungary, I've noticed a cycling culture that has nothing to do with contemporary hipsters and their fixies and messenger bags. It's grannies riding around on creaky one-speed Csepels with rod-actuated brakes and baskets to carry their groceries. Undoubtedly, part of the reason they're on bikes is economics. But it's also due to the fact that in most Hungarian settlements, traffic is calm, distances short and space abundant. And of course there's the Alföldi landscape, which rivals the Netherlands for its topographical blandness.

Still -- there are other countries in the EU with low income levels, small settlements and flat landscapes. There must be more behind Hungary's rich, and largely unknown, utility cycling culture. Just recently, I started work on a project to promote cycling as transport in small and medium-sized towns in Central and Eastern Europe. It will give me a chance to investigate the topic, and I hope to write here about my discoveries.

In the meantime, I'd appreciate any comments from those with insights.

Monday, August 15, 2011

An Open-and-Shut Case

The view from the north of the tunnel shows that cyclists are, again,
riding on the carriageway to get around the ongoing bridge work.
The new bicycle tunnel under the Buda bridgehead of Margit híd was closed shortly after opening last week due to an apparent signage screw-up, reports the news portal.

The view from the south shows a cyclist coming off the
carriageway and rejoining the bike path.
The signs on the new tunnel indicated that pedestrians, as well as cyclists, are permitted through the tunnel. And according to the Budapest Transport Centre (BKK), that isn't correct. The contractor for the long overdue bridge renovation needs to correct the mistake before the tunnel can reopen, and BKK is certain this will happen "rövidesen", meaning "shortly".

Considering the bridge project has been delayed countless times and has now taken about twice as long as originally planned, we'll take that with a grain of salt.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Cycling to Sziget is no Sweat

The entrance on Thursday, six days before day 1 of the Sziget

One of Europe's largest music events, the Sziget Festival, starts next week on Hajógyari (aka Óbudai) Island.

With as many as 390,000 (2009 peak) attending the week-long event, it generates an enormous volume of traffic, particularly over the 4-5 kilometres between downtown Budapest and the festival site.

A number of public-transport options exists, including Budapest Transport Company (BKV) charter buses for inbound and outbound campers; passenger ferries on the Danube, and that old standby, the suburban train (HÉV). All these are fantastic ways to get close-up and personal with your fellow Sziget revelers before you arrive at the massive queues at the island entrance.

Riding the Szentendre HÉV to the Sziget
(Image stolen from
For those who prefer a better ventilated mode of transport, there are bicycles. Designated bike routes on both banks of Danube link downtown with the festival site. And once there, you can take advantage of a free, guarded bike parking lot.

If you want to use the service, you'll need to take your bike through the entrance onto the island, and make your way to the lot, located on some tennis courts near the caravan camping area on the island (#41 on the Sziget map). The service works like a coat check: The bike is tagged and you'll get a receipt, and the volunteers will record the number of your festival entrance wristband along with the bike's ID data: colour, type and serial number.

Check your bike, but don't lose your number!

Volunteers from the Hungarian Cyclists Club tend the lot throughout the festival. At any time, three three of them are on site while a paid festival security guard is always nearby.

The bike parking lot holds 1,000 bikes, and during last year's event, a total of 5,000 bikes were looked after during the full festival period.

The cycling club has helped organise Sziget bike parking for several years, and has been leading the effort since last year's event. According to club Communications Manager Kornél Myat, the club as well as the Sziget organisation offer the service because it's part of their philosophy to support environmentally friendly bicycle transport. The 18 volunteers who staff the lot over the course of the festival also do it because they get free entry passes.

These days, the cycling club is not only providing cycling services at the Sziget Festival, but at a host of other summer events in Hungary, including Balaton Sound, the Hegyalja Festival, the Campus Festival in Debrecen and the Bánkitó Festival.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Sewing and cycling

From Shop window bicycles

Here's a window display of a downtown fabric shop. I think this has been on view for some time, but as I passed by it yesterday, I was reminded of a blog post that my friend Jelica had sent me a couple months ago. It was about how cycling had become so cool and trendy that merchants have co-opted it for commercial gain.

They put their product in an ad next to a bicycle, and voila! All of sudden, it seems as young and hip and urban and environmentally chic and devil-may-care as James Dean on a fixie.

I'm sorry to say that the shop window above does not pull this off. This store looks no different today than it did 15 years ago. So the old bikes in the window don't look as much "retro" as they look just plain old.

Still, it's the thought that counts.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Is Car-Crushing Mayor just a 'Facebook friend'?

I reckon you've seen the clip by now: Vilnius's Mad Max mayor taking care of a bike-lane blocking Mercedes with an eight-wheeled, roof-crushing army tank.

Posted on the morning of August 2, the obviously staged clip (here on a Hungarian blog) shows Mayor Arturas Zuokas strolling along a downtown street that’s devoid of traffic and completely empty – save for one car parked illegally on a bike lane.

Subtitles translate the mayor’s voiceover: “In the past few days, expensive cars have been parked illegally in almost this exact same place.”

The camera pans over an illegally parked Rolls Royce and then a Ferrari.

“What should the city do about drivers who think they are above the law?” he asks. “It seems to me that the best solution is a tank.”

The ensuing sequence shows the mayor driving an enormous, eight-wheeled tank over the offending car, crushing its roof and breaking its windows.

According to reports in various UK dailies, the stunt was staged with a junked car and an actor who posed as the car’s owner.

Posted on the city’s website and the mayor’s Facebook page, the clip went viral as intended. Within 48 hours, the video had 600,000 views on YouTube, while the subtitled version had another 400,000.

But while cycling bloggers the world over hailed Zuokas as the next Ken Livingstone or Bertrand Delanoe, local cyclists in Vilnius were decidedly less impressed.

“We as the Lithuanian Cyclists' Community (LCC) regard this as a pure PR action,” said local activist Frankas Wurft. “It has no influence on the reality and does not change the situation on the main boulevard in Vilnius city centre.”

“There are no more controls by the police or the public order department,” Wurft added.

Not that Zuokas is a complete newcomer to cycling politics. Wurft credited the mayor with a campaign in 2001, in which several hundred orange bicycles were turned loose on the Lithuanian capital’s streets in an early attempt at bike sharing.

But as with almost identical experiments in Amsterdam and other cities beginning in the 1960s, the bikes were all stolen in a matter of days.

The current state of Vilnius cycling politics is not much better, with no plans for new infrastructure and an apparent lack of support for better cycling conditions among the police and administration.

“Strangely, I do not hear anything about the former plans to close parts of the old town to car traffic,” Wurft added. “As I did not see any agenda, I can just regard Mr. Zuokas's action as pure PR.”

Monday, August 1, 2011

Permit at the End of the Tunnel

The long-awaited opening of the cycling tunnel under the Buda bridgehead of Margit híd may yet happen before the end of summer.

This would be a big relief to bike commuters who are now forced to make a death-defying detour into motor traffic.

According to an article in, the tunnel, which to all appearances seems finished and ready for traffic, cannot be opened due to bureaucratic reasons.

There is a long-winded explanation in this article that I had a hard time deciphering with my "alapfokú" Hungarian. But as far as I could understand, due to the fact that the bridge renovation is a year behind schedule, the government couldn't get a permit from ... the government ... and although the tunnel looks complete, there is műszaki tartalom ("technical content," according to Google Translate) which is not visible to the naked eye, and this has to be checked out by expertly enhanced eyes, and then, if the tunnel passes muster, it might be opened as early as mid-August.

The same goes for the Margit Island stop of the 4-6 tram. Or at least I think it does.