Monday, March 31, 2014
For the last couple years, the area around Parliament was a dusty construction zone walled off with chip board and fences. The boards came down a couple weeks ago -- in time for the national elections -- to reveal an enormous level space of concrete and cut stone.
Aside from a huge new statue of national hero Lajos Kossuth, it's as flat and open as the Hungarian Great Plain. Some would call it "austere" -- in fact, my wife said exactly that. But it got thumbs up all around for being closed to cars. The tram tracks look to be in the same place. The asphalt street has been replaced by a stone tiled surface with little bicycle pictograms etched in about every 20 metres. They're pretty subtle and the signage is spare, as well. It's basically designed as a shared space where cyclists and pedestrians co-mingle. Except at stops, there's no curb or other barrier to isolate the tram tracks. You have a feeling it'd be really easy for a child to step across the tram tracks at the wrong moment, but trams on Saturday were going quite slowly, probably for this reason.
For cyclists, this square used to be a bit of a hazard. You'd either ride on the narrow bike path near the Parliament -- and on weekends always contend with droves of camera-toting tourists. Or you'd go on the street where you'd be caught between speeding cars and parked tourist buses in front of the Ethnographic Museum. Now you have space galore. It's unregulated, and you have to watch where you're going, but it feels a lot more relaxed and pleasant.