Friday, June 14, 2013

Beating the Flow in Istanbul

On Sunday at a big climate change event in Istanbul, I will make a presentation about bicycling as a tool for climate mitigation. I'll try to make it locally relevant with some comments on how cycling could help alleviate some of Istanbul's congestion.

The traffic snarls here are amazing. It's like rush hour maybe 18 hours a day. I arrived here yesterday, and last night we took a cab down along the Bosphorous coast on the European side of the city. It was 8:30 p.m. but traffic was stop start all the way. After 10 minutes watching pedestrians pass us by, we paid our fare and hit the pavement ourselves. Istanbul is a great city for walking, lots of stuff to see and even with the lack of crosswalks, you can always squeeze through traffic because it's often not moving.

Not great for cycling at all. City has a plan to build 1,004 km of cycling tracks, but so far just 40 km have been built. Public transport is very scarce for a city of this size. So everyone's by car and there's no dedicated space for bikes.

At this event, Al Gore's Climate Reality Leadership training, there are about 580 attendees. One guy came by bike, an Istanbul colleague of mine at the REC named Eren. He says he bikes everywhere. It's the only way to travel here with any predictability. On four wheels, you're subject to traffic disruptions and jams, so you have to give yourself an hour safety margin if you have an important meeting to get to. By bike, you may have to suck a lot of exhaust, but you never get stuck, he said. Reminded me of my experience in Paris -- tons of traffic but it was normally moving so slowly that it didn't seem threatening.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Bike Study Commissioned for Margit Körút

I'd say this cyclist is enjoying a wider than average berth -- yet she's still forced to ride in the rain gutter.
The City has just commissioned a feasibility study on creating a bikeway on Margit körút. The local engineering firm Trenecon-COWI (working on the Bubi bike-share project among other cycling projects) recently got the assignment from the Budapest Transport Centre (BKK).

No particular design or approach has been proposed. Instead, Trenecon has been asked to look at all the possibilities, including:
  • bike lanes (as on the kiskörút)
  • bike tracks, grade-separated lanes between the sidewalks and the carriageway (these are common in Denmark and the Netherlands, but they've never been implemented in Budapest)
  • sharrows, bike ways that motorists could legally ride over when they're not occupied by cyclists. (The chevrons on the outside lanes across Margit híd are sharrows.)
The study will look into other possibilities to make the street more bike-friendly, including ways to reduce motor traffic, ways to make intersections safer and more convenient for cyclists and the feasibility of reducing speeds.

This is typical körút-style riding. With cars crowding him out on the curb, he chooses instead to ride between the first and second lanes. Technically illegal, I believe, certainly risky, but faster and more pleasant than waiting behind a car and sucking up exhaust.

Margit körút is a busy main road with two lanes for cars going in either direction. In order to create proper, comfortably-wide bike lanes, car lanes would have to be sacrificed. You can imagine how eager the mayor would be to eliminate two car lanes from Margit körút. However, given the volume and speed of motor traffic, sharrows or advisory bike lanes, in my opinion, would not cut the mustard. Like the ones on Margit bridge -- they wouldn't encourage many new cyclists to use them. They'd be used by messengers and other road-savvy cyclists -- basically the ones who already ride on the körút. They wouldn't boost cycle traffic and would likely wear off and be forgotten.

BKK might find there's just enough space to squeeze in exclusive bike lanes that just meet the minimum legal width. But this would be far from ideal on such a busy street. With taxis rushing by at 50-60 kph, you want a comfortable distance between them and your left handlegrip.

Unavoidably, the best possible solution would be to sacrifice car lanes. With the freed space, there'd not only be room for adequately wide, exclusive bike ways, but also expanded space for walking, restaurant and cafe seating, benches, greenery -- maybe even a fountain somewhere. This would not only be a major boon for cycling, it would calm the street, revive retail and recreation and generally improve neighbourhood livability. A good reference would be Oktober 6 utca -- Petofi Sandor utca, the once congested through street in District V that is now a destination in its own right.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

You take the high road, I'll take the low road

With all that open road, I couldn't stick to the speed limit.
As the Danube continues to rise, the low roads along the banks are flooding and being closed to motor traffic. On alternative routes, traffic chaos ensues, giving morning migraines to thousands of car-bound commuters.

For cyclists, though, the flood's not been a problem. In fact, yesterday on the Buda quay, the flood made bike commuting even faster. I hate to gloat in front of my four-wheeled friends, but when I hit the freshly closed embankment north of Margit híd, I FLEW!!

Reminded me of those magic months a few years ago when the embankment was closed for a sewerage project. People were out on running, skating, pushing strollers and riding bikes, with an abundance of space rarely seen outside of Wyoming.

After rocketing non-stop all the way to the Graphisoft Park, I downshifted to subsonic speed and slalomed through the police road blocks along Királyok útja / Nánási út. (With the exception of one cop who told me I should ride on the sidewalk (according to Hungarian traffic rules, this is actually illegal unless you're under age 12), police basically turned a blind eye to cyclists. This has been a very easy way to get around.

The fearsome Hungarian rendôrség takes charge near Római part.


I rode along Eurovelo 6 route on the riverside for a ways, then through strawberry fields around Budakalász. Finally got up to Szentendre, which is putting its brand-new mobile dike through the paces. If you're curious about what the powers that be have in mind for Római part, this is a good reference. The difference, of course, is that in Szentendre, the mobile dike is merely replacing a section of a conventional earthen dike that has been there for decades. In Római part, they'll have to build it up from scratch, which will mean a drastic transformation of the river bank.

Traffic jam on the Buda embankment

At a low point between Szépvölgyi utca and Tímár utca, the water was already over the road, so had to jump up onto the bike path.

Skaters on the embankment -- what's the world coming to??

At this point, the Eurovelo signage was leading me astray.

This road through Budakalász is restricted to local motor traffic -- but transiting cyclists are no problem.

A U-pick (szedd magad) strawberry field near Budakalász.

Atop the old dike in Szentendre, and looking at the new mobile dike around the bend.

Southern end of the Szentendre mobile dike.

At the north end of the Szentendre dike, it's a simple concrete wall. Workers are doing finishing touches with cut-stone facing.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

High-water commute

Along the Romai part bike path.
The Danube's flooding in Budapest again, and as the water was rising, I rode down to Romai part yesterday afternoon to see the preparations.

Every buffet and restaurant was closed and everything that wasn't anchored down had been moved to higher ground. The water had already covered parts of the bike path, making it impossible to ride the whole length of the embankment without taking inland detours.

Many of the property owners down here, including the boat houses and the concession stands, will just let their properties get flooded. Some of the homes, though, are surrounded by big barricades and they were fortifying these with sandbags in hopes of keeping dry.

The lowest-lying bierstube along here, Fellini bisztro, consists of a repurposed diner car and a bunch of beach furniture. It had all been trucked away by the time I arrived Tuesday around 6 p.m.

Public controversy has erupted over a plan to create a mobile dike along this section of Romai part. It would involve bulldozing earth some 50 metres into the river and cutting down scores willow and cottonwood trees along a bank that's popular precisely because of its natural state. Along with boat houses and beer stands, people come to Romai part for recreational rides on the Eurovelo 6 international bike route.

The dike proposal is driven by the owners of some newer developments that displaced old, flood-friendly boat houses. They shouldn't have been granted building permits, but they were, and now they have the support of the Budapest Municipality for a HUF 4 billion flood protection project to protect their properties.

These plans are now awaiting technical approvals from river protection authorities. If the level of this flood exceeds the height of the planned new bulwark, it will be proven a vain effort. The river level is expected to to crest over the weekend. We'll see what happens.

Protecting some private houses. This wall runs intermittently along the inland side of the bike path. Protesters against the proposed Romai part "mobile dike" have promoted an alternative plan that would involve strengthening and filling in the missing gaps of this wall.

The entrance to Matyas Kiraly ut will be closed to seal this gap in the existing flood wall.

Water rising at a boat house launching dock.

This bike rack was one of the few things not taken away in the evalcuation of the Fellini bisztro.

Same place as above, circa July 2011, during dryer times.

Part of the Fellini's kitchen also stayed behind.

This section of the Romai part bike path was already impassable Tuesday.

Closed due to flooding.

To the right, one of the new flood-averse developments on the Romai part.

The south end of the Romai part bike path is closed til further notice.