Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Bikes and buses the latest bedfellows

After a years-long lobbying effort, Budapest cyclists are finally being allowed to ride in several downtown bus lanes.

Earlier this month, the Budapest Transport Centre (BKK), the umbrella organisation overseeing all aspects of city transport, designated 10 bus lanes that will now also be open to cyclists. The lanes, marked with yellow bicycle icons, include one long artery in Buda and nine shorter sections in central Pest. In total, they run more than 4.5 km.

Perhaps the most significant is the one in Buda, on Fő utca between Bem József tér and a Clark Ádám tér. This will serve as the non-touristic cycling alternative to the Buda korzó path, which has become a conflict zone in recent years because of the colliding interests of its diverse users. It draws loads of tourists, on foot and on bike, as well as strollers, dogs, roller skaters and others, many moving at a liesurely pace. Weaving in and out amongst these users are sport and fitness cyclists, racing at top speed on graphite frame road bikes, as well as utility cyclists trying to get from point A to B as quickly and efficiently as they can.

There's long been discussion of creating a parallel, faster route for the latter categories of cyclists, and it appears the new shared bike-bus lane on Fő utca will be it.

But the main news here is the long-awaited opening of priority bus lanes to cyclists. The ban on cycling in these lanes has been a sore point because it has meant cyclists have just two unappealing choices: either ride along the curb illegally, and deal with the honking censure of BKK bus drivers or ride legally but unsafely in the second lane over. In that position, faster motor traffic passes the cyclist on both the left and right, creating an uncomfortable and potentially dangerous situation.

Karoly Sinka, a leader of the city’s Critical Mass movement, pointed this out in a presentation this summer to recruits of the city’s new bicycle patrol squad. Sinka noted that enforcing the ban is not only bad for cyclists, it’s bad for motorists because cyclists in the middle of a multilane road pose a bigger obstruction to traffic than those riding along the curb.

According to BKK, the new bike-bus lanes are part of a package of preparatory measures for Budapest’s public bicycle system, Bubi, due to launch 2013.

In its web announcement about the lanes, the bicycle club said it hopes further bike-bus lanes will follow because they are “inexpensive and safe developments.” The club included a list of pointers on how cyclists should ride in the lanes (e.g. don’t overtake buses on the right side, pull to the side at cross streets to allow trailing buses by, etc.). The club also promised to host classes for bus drivers to orient them on the new bike-bus lanes.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Sziget Festival: an Old Fart's View

This guy has a great attitude -- unlike me. Photo courtesy of  the Sziget Festival.
These are the dog days of summer in Budapest so along with heat waves, tick infestations and a virtual shut-down of the non-touristic economy, there is the annual bane of my commuting existence -- the Sziget Festival. In my younger days, of course, I looked forward to this international pop music extravaganza. But now that I'm a crusty old fart who doesn't even recognize most of the names on the Main Stage programme (The Beatsteaks? Two-Door Cinema Club?), the festival has become for me just a week-long nuisance, situated as it is on the Buda Quay right in the middle of my work commute.

The festival is on Hajógyari Sziget (Boat Factory Island -- during the rest of the year, a tranquil public park with an incredible, free-of-charge collection of slides for the kiddies) and the way that most day visitors get there is by taking the Szentendrei HÉV. They get off at the Filitorigát stop and from there it's a jam-packed queue of about 400 metres to the festival entrance. The queue is right on the bike path so if you happen to be cycling there in the evening, when most people come up to the Sziget, you will get caught in the queue.

This year the organisers worked out a detour and they've posted maps of it along the bike path at both the northern and southern approaches to the Sziget. The last two days I've stopped and studied these signs but I couldn't decipher them. Both days, I forged ahead following some yellow arrow signs that I assumed delineated the Sziget detour. But within a couple hundred metres, the arrows ran out and I was lost on some back street by a district heating plant in this industrial no-man's land west of Szentendrei út. I ended up coming back to Szentendrei út a couple kilometres north of the Sziget, and then riding on that street for about 5 km to Békásmegyer, where I could finally rejoin the bike path. Szentendrei út is a busy, 70 km/hr thoroughfare that's a hazard to anyone not encased in an army tank. I've decided for the remainder of the Sziget (until Sunday evening), I will stick to the bike path despite the queues of festival goers.

I should say, as a public service for those who like music festivals, that the Sziget Festival actually has some excellent accommodations for cyclists. For the past several years, they've offered free, guarded bike parking on site. Previously, it was managed by the Hungarian Cyclists' Club, this year it seems to have been taken over by MOL, the Hungarian petrol station chain. Is this a case of green washing or a commercial contingency for the post-petrol era? MOL actually has a multi-faceted "bike programme", which I wrote about here.

The Sziget organisers have a whole "mobility management" plan to deal with the tens of thousands of people who come to the festival -- half from outside Hungary. I wrote about that here.

This year's relevant info on Sziget bike parking and other travel pointers are here.