Tuesday, December 3, 2013

No bike lanes for Nagykörút

Budapest Mayor István Tarlos with Hernádi Zsolt, president of Bubi's corporate sponsor, MOL oil company.
With time ticking away til the planned April 2014 launch of Bubi – Budapest’s public bike system -- the city is scrambling to make downtown fit for the scheme’s users. A recently announced plan calls for scores of bike-friendly measures covering nine central districts. However, the measures are all small, easy fixes, and, disappointingly, will not include the cycling movement’s biggest priority in recent years – bike lanes around the nagykörút.

The kerékágy blog quotes János László, president of the Hungarian Cyclists Club, which helped draft the work plan. László said that the nagykörút lanes would have caused serious conflicts, and that small improvements were simply easier to take up. A statement from the Budapest Transport Center (BKK) says nagykörút bike lanes are “not realistic in current traffic conditions".

The improvements in the plan would cover 120 streets, 60 signaled intersections and 30 segments of main arteries. They comprise inexpensive, relatively easy fixes such as the painting of lanes and chevrons on streets, installing signs indicating the presence of cyclists, and the creation of contraflow lanes on side streets to allow two-way bike traffic on one-way roads.

The plan also calls for expansion of car-restricted zones; installation of bike parking; and traffic calming measures.

The work would start in districts VI and VII so that the entire service area of Bubi – basically everything inside the nagykörút plus the Buda river bank – would be finished before Bubi’s launch. After that, work would continue in districts VIII, IX, XI, I, II, V and XIII.

But, as said, the big banana is off the table.

The nagykörút is the busiest street downtown, and already gets significant bike traffic -- about 1,000 cyclists per day or 6% of motor traffic. With cars frequently moving faster than the posted speed limit, and with no separated lane for cyclists, this creates a hazard.

This past summer, BKK commissioned a feasibility study on new bike facilities on the körút, and the proposed ideas ran the gamut from simple advisory lanes or sharrows (as on Margit híd) to the redesignation of the outside traffic lanes for cyclists only. But even before the ideas were presented for political debate, BKK staff said behind the scenes that bike lanes were a non-starter.

Sure enough, the city’s recent decision was negative. Kerékágy quoted BKK saying:

The possible solutions outlined in the nagykörút study, in which cycling infrastructure displaces an outer traffic lane or parking lane, are not realistic in the current traffic situation. This might be taken up after the introduction of a downtown congestion charge, but on this there’s been no final decision.

The city has postponed introduction of the congestion charge many times, even though it’s obliged to implement it as a condition of EU subsidies for the 4th metro project. But that’s an old story.

The question is whether the quick and easy measures done over the next five months will be adequate preparation for Bubi. The system will have more than 1,000 bikes and 74 stations, all concentrated downtown. One worry is that lack of a sufficiently safe and convenient cycling network will stymie the system’s success. The other is that many of the new users will be people inexperienced in riding in city traffic, and that they’ll be more vulnerable to road accidents.

But at present, the city’s political leaders have decided the prospect of inconveniencing car drivers is a bigger worry than risking death and injury of cyclists.

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