Saturday, December 12, 2015

Mayor outlines dismal vision of out-moded transport

Tarlos, left, is all about charisma and vision.
Budapest's conservative mayor, István Tarlós, gave the cycling movement a kick in the teeth yesterday, threatening to get rid of downtown's shared bike-bus lanes and consider compulsory operating licences for cyclists.

He also labeled as "dangerous" the recently introduced system of contraflow bike lanes, and promised to subject them to a review by a secret working group.

Further, Tarlós poured cold water on a marvellous conceptual plan, revealed just this week, that would create a pedestrian-friendly Pest embankment and establish two bike lanes on the Chain Bridge.

The mayor's proposals came during a transport-themed press conference Thursday, outlining, among other things, plans for future transport financing and the city's obligation to introduce congestion charging (no earlier than 2017, he promised).

The Hungarian Cyclists Club reacted in an open letter urging the City Assembly and the councils of Budapest's district governments to reject the proposals. If you'd like to express your personal disgust with these ideas, check the options at the bottom of the link.

The club's letter objected firstly to the closed process in which the proposals were developed. Tarlós said they came from a "working group" whose members weren't identified and who didn't consult with the cyclists club on its cycling provisions. Illiberal democracy in action!

Tarlós's ideas are based on his rejection of a basic principle of cycling development: that routes should be designed to give cyclists the shortest path between points A and B. This is the only way to make cycling practical and attractive as a means of transport. Tarlós complained that the city can't make this an "absolute priority".

Not that it ever has. The cycling movement has campaigned for many years to end the old-fashioned practice of creating circuitous bikeways that snake on sidewalks around hidden side streets. Long-standing campaigns to put bike lanes on the Nagykörút and on Rákóczi út are examples of trying to make cycling convenient and practical, and Tarlos's statement is a clear rejection of these proposals.

Paradoxically, Tarlós's anti-cycling agenda, and assurances of continued car-friendly transport, are wrapped in an overall concept that he calls an "extremely public transport oriented" system. He thinks cycling, the most space-efficient means of transport next to walking, is a main barrier to fast public transport.

This is why the shared bike-lanes need to be removed, he said. He provided no evidence that bikes are holding up buses, while ignoring the actual cause of slow bus service: traffic jams on streets that DON'T have priority transit lanes.

Tarlós called contraflow cycling lanes "dangerous", despite the fact that there have been no serious accidents on them. Contraflow lanes have been a success in cities the world over, not only making cycling more convenient, but actually enhancing safety because they allow for eye-to-eye contact between motorist and cyclist.

Tarlós also cited safety as a justification for operating licenses for cyclists, which he said could be implemented by 2018. He bases the idea, also unsupported, on his assertion that "eight out of ten cyclists run red lights." Tarlós declared: "Cycling culture is not developing at the same rate as cycling infrastructure."

In fact cycling culture has been developing and safety has been improving. Semi-annual observations organised by the movement have shown that more and more cyclists are using lamps after dark, for instance. And the overall incidence of serious road injuries and fatalities among cyclists has decreased in Budapest, in step with the increase in cyclist numbers. This improvement mirrors countless international examples: Promotion of cycling levels is the best way to improve cycling safety.

To cap off his dismal vision for a more retrograde city, Tarlós criticised the most exciting elements of a new development concept for the Pest embankment and Chain Bridge. The plan, focussed on the embankment between the Margit and Szabadság bridges, proposes a mix of motor-traffic reduction and elimination along different segments. Traffic on the Chain Bridge would be reduced to one lane for motor traffic heading toward Buda. The saved space would be given to bike lanes.

But Tarlós was clear in his opposition to the concept: "The city leadership does not plan for one-way traffic on the Chain Bridge or closing traffic on the lower Pest bank."

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Week 4: Patch job accelerates ...

Path patch job is coming along, slowly but surely.
Three posts in a row about the Szentendre path patch job? That's obsessive. But whatever ... for the sake of documentation: The pace of the work has picked up. Maybe it had something to do with a colleague and I sending in impatient letters? Probably not. But the job has accelerated since then. At the beginning, the work crew came out just one day a week. But last week they came out two days, and this week they've come out three days already, and it's only Thursday!

Don't want to get too excited though.

My guesstimate is they've patched about 500 metres of path now. Let's hope for dry weather tomorrow.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Job could take awhile

Szentendre bike path work moves progresses slowly.
As mentioned in my previous post, I went ahead an contacted the Hungarian Road Company, Magyar Közút Zrt., about their recently started patch job on the bike path between Budapest and Szentendre. In my email to them, I explained that the work to date didn't look adequate. The path is 25 years old and in a terrible state of repair. I told them I've been cycling on it almost daily since 2002, and that I've busted many spokes, wheels and axles because of all the cracks and potholes on this path. It needs a complete resurfacing, not the sort of remedial patch job that's being done.

I sent that note on Friday (Nov. 13) and received a reply on Monday from Attila Tóth, Magyar Közút's supervising engineer for operations and maintenance. In essence, he explained that the Szentendre bike path does not belong to the Hungarian road network, but due to an "unfortunate administrative procedure," Magyar Közút was selected to maintain it. The company tried to hand it over to local governments -- by which he means, I assume, the municipalities of Szententre, Budakász and Békásmegyer -- but none of them manned up. Magyar Közút doesn't have dedicated resources for bike path maintenance, so they're expending only minimal energy on the current job, and only as weather allows. They're employing inefficient technologies ("by hand" he said), as their modern road-making machines can't access the path.

This response doesn't offer any solace or recourse to the users of the path. Just a long explanation of why the situation is shitty and why it can't be anything other than shitty.

On the bright side, I noticed this morning that a Magyar Közút road crew was on the job once again. As promised, the work is agonisingly slow. Last Thursday, they managed to fix about 100 metres of path and if they do the same today, that'll be 200 metres. At this rate (100 metres per week), we can expect the entire 10 kilometre path to be patched up in 100 weeks. But of course, work will cease during winter and when Magyar Közút is busy with more pressing work (i.e., anything else). So even if they stick with it, the job could take several years.

For those who use this path, I'd urge you to contact Mr. Tóth and tell him why this job is important:
Tóth Attila
Üzemeltetési és fenntartási vezető mérnök
Magyar Közút Nonprofit Zrt.
E-mail: toth.attila@pest.kozut.hu
Webpage: www.kozut.hu
For the record, here's my email exchange with Mr. Tóth in Hungarian:

Tisztelt Magyar Közút Nonprofit Zrt!

Ma reggel kerékpárral mentem dolgozni a 11-es út melletti kerékpárúton Budapest és Szentendre között, ahol észrevettem, hogy a Magyar Közút munkásai már elvégeztek néhány javítást az út egy rövid, 100 méteres szakaszán.

Az iránt szeretnék érdeklődni, hogy mik a Magyar Közút tervei a kerékpárút javításával kapcsolatban? Az útvonal 10 kilométer hosszú, 25 éves, és a teljes hosszában nagyon leromlott állapotban van - úgy gondolom, hogy a kátyúzás nem fogja megoldani a problémát, egy teljesen új burkolatra lenne szükség.

2002 óta járok Szentendrére dolgozni és szinte minden nap ezen az úton kerékpározok. A repedések és úthibák miatt számos küllő, kerék és tengely ment már tönkre az én és kollégáim kerékpárján. Bízom benne, hogy a Magyar Közút olyan megoldást talál, ami hosszú távon is lehetővé teszi, hogy az emberek végre kényelmesen és biztonságosan tudjanak kerékpározni Budapest és Szentendre között.

Válaszukat előre is köszönöm!

Üdvözlettel,

Greg Spencer
_____________
Tisztelt Greg Spencer Úr!

Köszönjük megkeresését a 11. sz. (Budapest – Esztergom – Tát) másodrendű főút 13+236 – 16+952 km szelvények közötti szakaszán az országos közúttal párhuzamosan haladó kerékpárút burkolat állapotára vonatkozóan.

Tájékoztatjuk, hogy a kerékpárút nem része az országos közúthálózatának, így Társaságunk részére nincs elkülönített, előirányzott forrás ilyen osztályú létesítmények kezelési és üzemeltetési feladatainak ellátására. Ezen túlmenően az országos közúthálózattal kapcsolatos feladatok elvégzése mellett korlátozott kapacitása és eszköze marad Társaságunknak ezen, rendezetlen tulajdonviszonyú kerékpárút üzemeltetésére, ill. karbantartására.

Tárgyi ügyben az évek során több megkeresés, illetve bejelentés érkezett már Társaságunkhoz. Álláspontunk továbbra is az, hogy a tulajdonosi háttér rendezetlen és Társaságunk csak egy szerencsétlen ügymenet kapcsán került üzemeltetőként kijelölésre.

Ezen rendezetlen állapot okán kértük az érintett önkormányzatokat, hogy vegyék át kezelésbe az érintett kerékpárutat. Természetesen az ingatlan-nyilvántartás rendezésében partnerek vagyunk és ehhez a szükséges segítséget Társaságunk megadja.

Mindezeket figyelembe véve területileg illetékes szentendrei mérnökségünk feladattervi lehetőségei alapján, a burkolathibák javítását - az erre megfelelő célgép hiányában, korlátozott technológia alkalmazásával kézi erővel tudja elvégezni, mivel a meglévő eszközeink számára a kerékpárút megközelíthetetlen – az időjárás és kapacitás függvényében folyamatosan végzi.

Kérjük tájékoztatásunk szíves elfogadását.

Üdvözlettel

Tóth Attila
Üzemeltetési és fenntartási vezető mérnök
Magyar Közút Nonprofit Zrt.
Pest Megyei Igazgatóság
1134 Budapest, Váci út 45 D.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Szententre bike path being ... patched :-(

These are some of the patches done November 12, 2015 at northern end of Szentendre Bike Path. Work to date covers about 100 meters of the 10 kilometre path.
Looks like I got carried away. From the looks of the ongoing work on the Szentendre bike path, it's not being resurfaced, as I was led to believe, but rather getting a remedial patch job.

Actually, it's not clear what's going on. Yesterday, there was a work crew on the path at the Szentendre end. They told me they were just getting started on a repair of the entire length of the path -- from Szentendre to Budapest. But checking the progress this morning, there were nine patches over a short section of maybe 150 meters, and the work crew was nowhere to be seen. I don't know if this means they'll be back later to continue the work, or if they've already called it good. But even in the best case, it looks like I got way ahead of myself thinking they were doing a resurfacing. It's a patch job, the latest of several that have been done over the years. I'm planning to send a letter to the authority in charge, Magyar Közút Zrt., to clarify their plans.

In the meantime, I documented a few representative cracks and potholes to show just how dire the situation is. Sections of the path are so disintegrated that they're basically being reclaimed by nature. Like in photos of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.
This section is about halfway between Budapest and Szentendre just north of the Renault dealership.
Here, the edge of the path has broken off and is gradually sliding into
the ditch along Route 11.
Several years ago, some pavement milling was performed to smooth out some of the more egregious heaves and buckles on the path. Normally, milling is followed by resurfacing, but in this instance, they milled a few spots and disappeared. The result was awful. In some spots, the path had become even worse. Which is saying something.
This is a fun one for the adventurous cyclist. The recommended line of approach here is on the right, about 20 cm from the edge. You can't avoid a bump, but you can cut your losses. 
Mars Rover view of volcanic perturbations.
Hoping the patch crew won't overlook this one.

As bad as this looks, the experience of riding on it is even worse.



Thursday, November 12, 2015

Szentendre bike path being resurfaced

Men at work -- hopefully.
 I still can't believe it. This morning on my commute from Budapest, I came across a road crew on the bike path in front of the Szentendre Aldi. They said they were just starting work on a complete resurfacing of the path. All 10 kilometers from Szentendre to the northern border of Budapest.

This path -- running along the west shoulder of Route 11 -- is about a quarter century old, one of the oldest existing paths in the Budapest area. It got a crappy patch job five years ago, but has never been resurfaced. I chronicled by hate-hate relationship with it here: its ruts and holes and gaping cracks have busted many spokes and wheels and axles. If I was Wierd Al Jankovic, I'd write an adaptation of Johnny Cash's "San Quentin". The first line: "Szentendre Bike Path, I hate every inch of YOU!!"

But nevermind, a three-guy road crew from Magyar Közút Zrt. was working on a small section of the path near Aldi, and they claimed to be doing a complete resurfacing of the path from start to finish. I think they said it'd be finished in a month's time. I'll keep posting on the progress.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Car-free Chain Bridge!!

The way it outta be. Image stolen from here.
If you're for a calmer, quieter less congested city centre, you should come join a demonstration this Sunday afternoon for a car-free Chain Bridge.

The Chain Bridge will soon be renovated, and the Hungarian Cyclists Club sees this as an opportunity to restore its original purpose as a quick, convenient link between central Pest and the Buda Castle.

In its current state, the Chain Bridge is clogged with traffic jams for large parts of every weekday, and on busy weekends, as well. This is because most of the daily users -- 57 percent, according to a city study -- cross by car, the least space-efficient mode of transport, with an average of just 1.2 passengers per vehicle. Meanwhile, 37 percent go by bus (capacity around 80), but they don't get any reward for making a more space-efficient, environmentally friendly choice. They're stuck in the same, creeping traffic jams as the cars.

Bicyclists comprise about 6 percent of daily bridge traffic. And although the bike may be the fastest way to cross the Chain Bridge, it's not a pleasant way to go because you're either squeezed between cars and the bridge railing, or you're maneuvering amongst pedestrians on the sidewalks, where many regard you as a nuisance.

If the bridge was wider, buses could have priority lanes, but it isn't. A common-sense solution is to kick out the cars, and give it back to people. In this way it could be more like the Charles Bridge in Prague -- part and parcel with its eye-catching, historic surroundings, and free of noise and traffic fumes from cars.

The Cyclists Club proposes to start next summer, after school's out, by conducting a temporary trial in which buses would be given top priority in traffic. Without car congestion, bus departures could be more frequent, and the service would be much faster and more reliable. Top speed on the bridge would be held at 30 kph in order that cyclists can share the roadway safely and harmoniously. And pedestrians will have the sidewalks to themselves -- as they should. Last but not least, the Chain Bridge will once again be a feasible route for emergency vehicles.

Many will wonder where all the car drivers will go. But as with the pedestrianisation of Vaci utca and Raday utca, or the traffic reductions on the north-south axis from Ferenciek tere to Szabadsag ter -- people will find alternatives. Either a different route or a different vehicle choice.

If you support this vision, you can sign the Cyclists Club's online petition here. If you'd like to join a cycling demonstration, here are the coordinates:
When: Sunday, October 11. Gathering starts at 2:30 p.m., parade departs at 3 p.m.
Where: Széchenyi tér in the parking area in front of the Hungarian Academy of Science (MTA)
Parade route: Széchényi tér - Chain Bridge - tunnel - U-turn at Attila út - tunnel - Chain Bridge - Széchényi tér. Repeat route once, then return to Hungarian Academy of Science.

Demonstration announcement in Hungarian.

After the demonstration, there will be a public forum on the topic.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Bringing Bike Sharing to the 'Burbs?

Peter Dalos, operations manager of the Bubi system, presents at a spring, 2015 public hearing on bike-sharing in Szentendre.
At the Regional Environmental Center, we've just completed a feasibility study on bringing bike-sharing to Szentendre. The result: there's strong popular support for a scheme, and the optimal option would be an e-bike, or pedelec, system with 11 docking points scattered about town.

The nitty gritty of the study, funded by the CIVITAS Initiative, is summed up here.

But I also had some thoughts about it. On the positive side, we had outstanding involvement from City Hall: four or five staff members (including finance, infrastructure and communications experts) attended all of our meetings, and one event was attended by Szentendre's mayor. We also had the involvement of BKK, because one of our original ideas was that Szentendre's system could be an extension of the Bubi system in Budapest. It was one of eight alternatives that we explored.

As you can see in the study, the public was very supportive, with 76.1 percent of survey respondents fully or strongly in favour of introducing bike-sharing in Szentendre, and nearly half saying they would use the service at least occasionally.

Szentendre residents at the spring, 2015 public hearing raised several questions about the proposed scheme.
Despite the positives, it's an open question whether City Hall will take the next step and invest in bike sharing. One thing we learned during the study is that Szentendre, despite its beautiful historic centre and prime location on the riverbank just north of the capital city, is quite cash poor. Cities in Hungary rely on an industrial tax for most of their revenue and Szentendre is more of a residential, bedroom community than a place for business (the wealth of ice-cream shops notwithstanding). So there's considerable reluctance to make investments in anything viewed as non-essential.

There are ways to solve this. There are funding programmes that could help with the investment and there are opportunities for corporate sponsorship which could cover at least part of the operational costs. We even learned of a potential scheme organised by a passenger boat service that would implement bike sharing in riverside communities as a service for their customers.

Beyond that, there's the possibility to go with a low-tech, less expensive version of bike sharing. Although an e-bike system with automated docking stations is attractive, especially given Szentendre's hilly surroundings, the city could implement bike-sharing with standard bikes that could be rented out from a space at the city's HEV stop. The investment would be quite small -- just the bikes, a chip-card reader and a rudimentary shop. You would need staff to run it, as well. But this would be a very handy service for tourists coming up to the city by HEV or Volan bus, and in time it could be expanded and adapted to the needs of commuters (the Dutch OV-fiets system, run by the national rail company, is a good model).

In any case, we've handed the study over to City Hall, and the ball's in their court. There's evident will at City Hall to make Szentendre more bike and pedestrian friendly. It took some tentative steps in that direction this summer, and in our study we've argued that bike-sharing is a powerful tool to promote cycling -- not just on shared bikes, but on any bikes. We're hoping City Hall takes heart.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Bike Sharing Boosts Property Value

As reported by several outlets (including here and here) the Bubi bike share system has recently been expanded  by 22 new docking stations, bringing the total number of locations to more than 90.

Most of this  expansion was thanks to a contract penalty that BKK enforced against the technical supplier led by ICT company T-Systems Hungary: Due to the delayed rollout of Bubi in spring of last year, the T-Systems consortia had to compensate BKK with HUF 180 million (EUR 589,000).  Rather than paying cash, the providers agreed with BKK to add the new docking stations instead.

But that doesn't account for 100 percent of the expansion. One of the new stations, specifically the one at Corvin Sétány housing and shopping development, was financed by the property's owner. As such, it becomes the first Bubi docking station to be paid for with private money.

This represents a new possibility for system expansion, and a new opportunity for business people interested in the cyclist market. Bubi will install a docking station on your property for a fee, and will take care of its operation and maintenance thereafter. A large station such as the one at Corvin Sétány, with spaces for 30 bikes, along with a rental terminal capable of selling tickets with a chip card reader, is yours for HUF 6.83 million (EUR 21,700). After signing on the dotted line,  the station will be installed in seven to eight months.

Why would someone shell out for such a price? According to János Berki, who headed the Corvin Corvin Sétány project for Futureal, a key consideration for the whole Corvin project was sustainability, with an accent on people and livability. This naturally included cycling facilities, including ample bike racks and changing rooms and showers for office spaces.

Berki didn't mention the docking station's impact on property value, but this may well have been an ulterior motive. According to new research, proximity to public bike sharing stations postively impacts on residential property value. The study, focusing on Montreal, Quebec, showed that for every single bike-share station located in a neighborhood,
"... $700 in property value is added to surrounding houses. Considering that, in Montreal, homes in a bike-sharing friendly neighborhood are, on average, within range of just over 12 stations, the value grows by almost $9,000; that's a 2.7 percent increase in sale value solely by virtue of living near a bike-sharing system."
This makes sense to me. Public bikes not only make a neighbourhood more accessible to more people, they contribute to its appeal as a fashionable, modern quarter.

Meanwhile in Dopeville ... the blog kerekagy recently reported on a "Facebook protest" among regulars of the Matyas Pince, a restaurant at Marcius 5 ter that specialises in traditional Hungarian fare. A Bubi docking station was placed in front of the eatery's entrance, provoking complaints about how it detracted from the historic elegance of the place. Realising that the Matyas Pince menu would of course be heavy on pork, this is very much a case of pearls before swine.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Szentendre Opens "Car-Freer" Riverfront

On the river side of the korzo, a 3-metre-wide pedestrian strip has displaced street parking. Nice move, Szentendre! The other side of the street is still chock-a-block with cars despite the ban on parking.
The Szentendre riverfront strip has been redesigned in a more bike- and pedestrian-friendly way. But those who expected a car-free "korzó" this summer will be disappointed.

The main change affects the strip of cafes and restaurants from Péter Pál utca to Lázár cár tér. Here, at least according to the city's communications, 53 on-street parking spaces have been eliminated and in their place is a 3-metre-wide pedestrian lane on one side of the street, and expanded restaurant space on the other side. On the one-way traffic lane in between, they've painted yellow chevron markers indicating that cycling is permissible in both directions. Cycling's been permissible in both directions for some time, but the markings hopefully make this clearer to motorists.
On the cafe side of the strip, road crews painted a dashed line that separates traffic from restaurant space. Some restaurants have already occupied their space fully, right up to the line, with flower pots and seating. But where they haven't, motorists continue to park cars in violation of the new rules. This will need some education and enforcement.
As you can see, the changes are ad hoc and not terribly attractive, but the city didn't have funds for a better solution. City Hall says this is a pilot scheme that will be evaluated after the summer season, and if it's seen as successful, the korzó will be redesigned permanently. If and when there's funding, which is a challenge for the perpetually cash-strapped local government.

North of the cafe strip they've created diagonal on-street parking spots, and they're currently in the last phase of constructing an 80-spot parking lot south of Bükkös Creek -- a five-minute walk from the strip. This more than compensates for the eliminated spots in front of the cafes. In fact, doing the math, there's a net addition of 27 parking spots, although you can bet that motorists will complain.


The changes are positive, but the concept of a car-free korzó remains a dream. It's too bad because I believe this would be a huge boon for tourism and be accepted by the traveling public in short order. Motorists who make the korzó a destination now have ample parking within a few-minute walk and those who use it as a transit route have a perfectly good alternative on Route 11.

But for now, we have to settle for a "car-freer" korzó. Our inside sources say this is part of a step-by-step process that will eventually lead to a completely car-free riverfront. Naturally, time will tell.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Cycling Allowed on Bike Path! Yay!

Here be the thing I'm talking about.
From June 30, cyclists will finally be allowed to cycle on the Timar utca overpass of the Buda bank bike path.

According to vezess.hu blog, authorities finally gave in to reason, and will remove a long-standing rule that effectively forbade people from riding bikes on a bike path.

The ban applies to a section of the Eurovelo 6 bike path that takes cyclists over Árpád fejdelem via a shared-use pedestrian/cyclist bridge at the Timar utca HÉV stop. Signs on the overpass approaches (still existing) indicate that cyclists must dismount and push their bikes over the bridge. Ostensibly, the rule is there to protect pedestrians, and police have taken it seriously. In recent years, they've set up periodic dragnets and handed out steep fines to cyclists who don't comply, me, for example.

There's been talk for at least a couple years about construction of a separate bicycle bypass. However, according to the article, authorities are still in the process of obtaining property easements and the thing won't be built for at least two more years. In the meantime, they're lifting the riding restriction, while also requiring that cyclists keep their speeds below 10 km/hr on the bridge.

It's ironic that cars on the street below are whizzing by at 40-50 km/hr, and posing a much greater threat to the many pedestrians who cross on the surface to hasten their passage. This bridge is based on an outdated approach in which urban traffic management was nothing more than greasing the road system to allow for high-flow, fast motor traffic. In this view, pedestrians are obstacles, and infrastructure is designed to get them out of the way. We'll see what the "bicycle bypass" will look like, but from the way it's referenced, we can predict an old-school approach.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Bike Path Blockade

One man's commuting route is another man's parking lot. Bike path on east side of Road 11 just north of Szentendre Lidl.
Riding into Szentendre this morning (May 13), two vans from the electric utility, ELMŰ, were blocking the bike path. Not headline news, for sure. It seems that bike and pedestrian paths are the go-to parking solution for road-work and utility crews. They're not the only culprits, just some of more frequent offenders.

Parking on bike paths is standard practice and all the more annoying because of it. Although it happens all the time in Hungary, one can imagine a parallel universe, or even a nearby country, where cycling paths are taken seriously.

In this morning's instance, the utility trucks could have pulled onto the weedy strip between the path and the road. Easy, right? I've written a complaint letter to ELMŰ, asking them if they have any policy about this. I mean, their trucks almost never park on roadways. There must be regulations and guidelines about this. Is there no policy at all about bike paths? Or is this a non-issue for ELMŰ? We'll see what their response is.

UPDATE:
ELMŰ sent a response to my complaint. Give them credit for being prompt, although sadly it doesn't acknowledge the problem and mainly aggrandizes the urgency of ELMŰ's service: "As can be clearly seen in the photo you sent, our workers didn't park their vehicles on the bike path, but were using them to complete PUBLIC UTILITY work." It goes on to say the tasks are being done to ensure a safe supply of electricity for you all, and it's all being done in compliance with Hungarian rules and traffic regulations.

In my complaint letter, I noted that ELMŰ vehicles frequently block bike paths, and that there are normally convenient ways to avoid this. ELMŰ's reply doesn't acknowledge blocked bike paths as a problem, much less ways to address it.

For the record, here is the verbatim exchange in Hungarian (Thanks to Attila Katona for the editing!):
From: Greg Spencer [mailto:GSpencer@rec.org]
Sent: Wednesday, May 13, 2015 10:59 AM
To: Elmű-Émász Ügyfélszolgálati Kft._Budapest
Subject: Panasz a kerékpárúton parkoló járművekről

Tisztelt Hölgyem/Uram!
Ma reggel a 11-es út mentén húzódó kerékpárúton, Szentendrén, két ELMŰ jármű blokkolta az utat. Annak ellenére, hogy van más parkolási lehetőség, ez mégis gyakran előfordul, és nagyon kellemetlen - gyakran kifejezetten veszélyes - a kerékpárral közlekedők számára. Kérem a jövőben vegyék figyelembe a kerékpárral utazókat. Az iránt szeretnék érdeklődni, hogy van-e az ELMŰnél erre vonatkozó előírás?

Üdvözlettel,
Greg Spencer

Tisztelt Greg Spencer!
Mint ahogyan a mellékletben, az Ön által elküldött képen is jól látható: A kerékpárúton tartózkodó gépjárművek nem parkolnak, hanem az ott tartózkodó munkatársaink munkaeszközeként, KÖZÜZEMI munkát végeznek. Azért dolgoznak, hogy biztosítsák Önök számára, a biztonságos villamos energia ellátást! Az ilyen munkavégzésekre a törvény is külön jogszabályokban foglalkozik. (KRESZ közüzemi munkavégzést ellátó gépjárművek)

Üdvözlettel:
Kovács János
osztályvezető
Gépjármű osztály
Budapesti Elektromos Művek Nyrt. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Public hearing supports bike-share project

Szentendre Mayor Miklós Verseghi-Nagy got Saturday's hearing started.
Our first public hearing on the idea of introducing bike sharing to Szentendre went off over the weekend with mostly supportive, positive comments from participants.
About 20 people attended, fewer than we'd hoped, although it was asking a lot for people to come to a boardroom discussion at 10:15 on a beautiful Saturday morning. And besides, we're also offering an easier online means of giving input. As of April 28, 220 people had filled in our short, online questionnaire (deadline is May 10).

The meeting was held as a side event to the REC's annual Earth Day celebrations, which this year attracted a couple hundred or more visitors. The mayor was on hand and, because the bike-share gathering in the REC's library constituted the biggest concentration of guests at 10 a.m., our side event became the venue for his welcoming remarks.

Peter Dalos, the operations manager of Budapest's bike sharing system, Bubi, kicked things off by giving an overview of the bike sharing concept, as well as the particulars of the Bubi system. His presence added a useful dose of gravitas to the event, with Bubi representing a "serious" investment of EUR 3.5 million and also a well-publicised Hungarian success story. Very popular and widely used, it has suffered little of the theft and vandalism that critics had predicted.

REC intern Attila Katona, who's heading up the Szentendre study, laid out the preliminary case for bringing bike sharing to Szentendre, including its benefits to the environmment, for the tourist trade and its potential usefulness to commuters.

Public comments on Saturday were supportive, although, as expected they began with skeptical questions about basic cycling conditions in Szentendre. Road 11, the high-traffic thoroughfare connecting Szentendre to Budapest and communities on the Danube Bend, has long been a sore point with bike riders. Cycling isn't even allowed there and no bike lane or path exists over most of its stretch through town.

Szentendre's hilly terrain; the cobblestone streets in the city centre; and the awkward connection between the HEV station and the Old Town were other mentioned challenges.

These were fair enough points, and it was an opportunity to present City Hall's other measures regarding cycling. Concerning Road 11, the city recently won an appeal to the Hungarian Public Road Authority to remove the ban on cycling. It's uncertain how cycling will be managed on the road, but planning is underway. Regarding the awkward HEV connection to Old Town (currently a dingy underpass beneath Road 11, with steep flights of stairs on either end, this will be addressed with a pending investment that will include a surface crossing over Road 11. For the hills, there's the possibility of including electric bikes or pedelecs to the Szentendre bike share fleet.

These are all important points, however Attila underscored that the scope of our study covers bike sharing, not general transport improvements. The hope is that bike sharing will stimulate higher levels of cycling in town, which will stimulate political pressure for bike-friendly improvements, which will stimulate more cycling, etc.

This was the case with the Bubi project in Budapest: Before Bubi launched in the summer of 2014, the city implemented scores of small bike-friendly improvements to the streets within the system's area: contraflow lanes, new signage, bike racks and so on. This was also the case in London, with the blue "bicycle superhighways" following quickly on the heels of the Boris bikes. Barcelona was another example of a city that began bike-friendly improvements by launching a bike-share system.

The takeaway is that cities become bike friendly step by step -- rarely in a single massive project (with Seville, Spain, being the only exception I can think of).

Most of Saturday's guests seemed to understand this, and it was my impression they simply wanted us to understand the wider context of our project. Working and cycling in Szentendre for the last 12 years, and having been pulled over by police multiple times for cycling on Road 11, I can definitely say, I feel the pain!

A final public comment on Saturday was a vote of support for our "low-cost" option for bike sharing. At present, we're looking at two different models as the basis for the Szentendre system. The first is the multi-station model provided by Bubi and the majority of other modern bike-share systems. We figure that Szentendre is big enough to support a system encompassing three to 10 stations: one at the HEV stop, one or two on the Duna korzo, perhaps one at the Skanzen, and so on. We've posted an online collaborative map to see where potential users would like to see stations.

The other model is that of OV-Fiets in the Netherlands: It involves just a single station (in the Netherlands, it's always a train stop) and users check out bikes from and return them to this station. Rentals can be longer term -- a few hours or even a full day. This is a key difference to multi-nodal systems, which encourage short trips of less than 30 minutes. A big advantage of the single-node approach is that it is potentially much cheaper and simpler to implement. Although it can be automated with high-tech equipment and contactless cards, it can also be designed as a conventional bike rental, with the only necessary ingredients being a human attendant, a shed full of bikes, and a chip-card reader.

The comment on Saturday was that it might be best for Szentendre to begin with a low-tech, low-cost system, and see where it goes from there.

One thing that would be missing would be the connection to Bubi. At project's start, we had a vision of Szentendre hosting an extension of Bubi, with the same technology, same branding and same user card. I don't want to give up on this idea. However, it could be that this project, too, will have to be carried out step by step by step.

Monday, April 27, 2015

I Bike Budapest Reboots Tradition

Lance, Sequoia and Kristin pause for a foto at the end of the ride at entrance to Margit Sziget.
Of course, I joined the Ride Formerly Known as Critical Mass yesterday and had the usual good time. I have no idea how many people there were and couldn't find a head count in any of the media reports. Hungarian news agency MTI reported "several tens of thousands" -- which is a safe guesstimate.

We got out the door late, so missed the first couple kilometres from Bakats ter to the Chain Bridge. But from there, we completed the rest of the 19 km circuit. It was a pretty long ride compared to previous spring Critical Masses. The ride's facebook page reported there were more than 400 helpers out directing traffic at intersections. It's a credit to the organisers that so many volunteers could be recruited, trained and deployed so smoothly. It seemed they pulled it off beautifully. Other than a couple low-speed spills involving children (including our 10-year-old), I didn't hear of any big incidents.

My family and I took a little more than two hours to get to the finish at Margit Island -- and then Kristin took the kids home because they were wiped out and needed to pee. I rode onto the island to the big  grassy field where people were collecting, and I went to the Kerekparosklub tent to get a shirt (I Bike BP). Men's sizes were all sold out, except for smalls -- which I got anyway for a souvenir.

I hung around for half an hour but had to cut out before the bike lift. Happy hour date with Kristin in a nice quiet bar was the perfect way to cap off a great day.




Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Need Your Input on Szentendre Bike Sharing


As mentioned in a previous post, Szentendre is studying the feasibility of introducing a bike-sharing scheme and this week, an online survey was launched to gauge public interest.

The short questionnaire asks you whether you would use the scheme and, if so, how often, during what seasons, at what times of the day, for what price and so on. The city needs input from as many people as possible -- including weekend visitors and tourists, so you don't have to live in Szentendre to take part.

Questionnaire is here -- you can switch to an English version at the top of the opening page. Please take five minutes to fill it out.

Parallel to this, there's a collaborative mapping tool where you can suggest locations for docking stations for the system or comment on already suggested spots.

If you'd like to learn more about the Szentendre bike-sharing idea and comment on it in-person, a public hearing will be held on the topic this Saturday (April 25).

What: Public hearing on introduction of bike sharing in Szentendre
Time: 10:15-11:15 a.m., Saturday April 25
Place: REC Zero Emission Conference Center; 9-11 Ady Endre ut; 2000 Szentendre
Language: Hungarian

The hearing is held in conjunction with the REC's annual Earth Day celebrations at the Szentendre head office of the Regional Environmental Center. This is a kid-friendly, open-invitation event in the REC's arboretum. The Earth Day event runs 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Szentendre City Hall Turns Bike-Friendly

In 2014, a service road opened next the the Duna Korzó that provides for car-free cycling with a view.
Szentendre's local government has apparently turned a corner on the subject of utility cycling. City Hall wants to make the town more bike-friendly, and it's reaching out to cyclists to find out how to do it.

This is a big change from five years ago, when some local activists and I did a 'hotspot' analysis of local cycling infrastructure. We recommended some basic remedies to the then mayor, but he told us flat out that nothing could be done that cost money.

But Szentendre has a new mayor, 47-year-old Miklós Verseghi-Nagy, and the winds have changed. My company,  the Regional Enivironmental Center, recently initiated a feasibility study on introducing bike sharing here. Just a week after the study's kick off  at Szentendre City Hall, we were invited back to provide input on another bike-related matter: the installation of public bike racks around town.

Our colleague Attila Katona attended a meeting with a couple municipal officers, the owner of a local bike shop and representatives of the local chapter of the Hungarian Cyclists Club. The results were better than we'd hoped.  The main outcomes:
  • The city agreed to install large portable bike racks (14-28 bike capacity) during the 5-6 warmest months of the year on the main square (Főtér) and the northern and southern ends of the riverfront cafe and restaurant strip (Duna Korzó). These could later become locations of permanent bike-share docking stations.

  • The city will take steps to improve bike parking at the Szentendre HÉV station. Although transport operator BKK controls the property, City Hall will lobby for the changes.
  • City Hall also wants to ensure bicycle parking is provided in front of high-traffic local businesses (grocery stores, banks, restaurants, etc.) The city might encourage this by offering subsidies, but may even compel owners to provide a certain level of parking based on the size of their properties (similar to the existing codes on car parking).
In general, city leadership is enthused about making Szentendre more bike and pedestrian friendly. A big first step will be expansion of the car-free city centre by banning cars during the summer on the korzó.

It's also eager to lift the ban of cycling on Route 11, the main north-south thoroughfare through town. Until now, cycling's been prohibited on Route 11 by the national road authority, Magyar Közút. At the urging of local activists, City Hall appealed to the authority to lift the ban and the petition has apparently succeeded.

According to the information Attila received this week, the legal barrier's been lifted and now it's a matter of following through with whatever signage and infrastructure that's needed. And their may be some personal motivation here: Szentendre's Vice-Mayor Dorottya Gyürk is a cyclist, and admits to a habit of riding illegally on Route 11.

Of course, to make Szentendre truly bike friendly, investments will be needed, and this is where many politicians balk. Even so, there's been a big attitude shift toward cycling at Szentendre City Hall, and this is great news.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Critical Mass Back under Reshuffled Leadership

The new CM is planned to look like the old CM.
After a two-year hiatus, Budapest Critical Mass will return this April 25. It sounds nearly identical to the spring CMs of yore--except for the proposed name: "I Bike Budapest."

There's a new face behind it, as well: Áron Halász, who has published the Hungarian Cycle Chic blog since 2009. He takes on the job as a member of the executive board of the Hungarian Cyclists Club, and he has the support of CM's former organisers, Sinya and Kükü, who are also involved with the club.

In a post on the Kerékagy blog, Halász explains that the ride's envisioned as a once-a-year "fiesta" as opposed to "demonstration".

In other words, it won't be like the old autumn Critical Masses in which participants rode in traffic in order to make a statement about their right to the road. Instead it follows the celebratory MO of the old Earth Day Critical Masses. It's being planned in cooperation with City Hall, it will follow a predetermined parade route patrolled by police, and every effort is being made to minimise inconvenience to other road users.

Public announcements and press interviews are being held well in advance to 'warn' those who won't take part. During the event, provision is made to ensure that the parade doesn't obstruct public transport or pedestrian traffic. Even motorists will be allowed to cross the ride route at larger, police-controlled intersections.
Áron Halász, left, is taking over the reins from Gábor Kürti, right, as point man for the new Critical Mass,
now dubbed "I Bike Budapest." Image taken from Bikemag.hu.
Although they were firm about closing down Critical Mass two years ago, original organisers Sinya and Kükü (Kükü is also a cyclists club board member) of the Hajtas Pajtas bike courier company have pledged their support.

In 2013, they had argued Critical Mass had become obsolete, and that in order to take the next step, the cycling movement needed to refocus on professional lobbying.

However, as Sinya and Kükü explain in a jointly signed open letter, many cyclists felt CM played a big role in inspiring and sustaining the cycling community. Apart from the question of whether CM was an effective lobbying tool, it had spiritual value.

The two activists agreed as long ago as early 2014 to support the ride's resurrection. But they had conditions: It should follow CM's basic ethos of being independent (no commercial underwriters, no political party bias), and it should steer clear of overt political statements. They didn't want it to interfere with or obscure the lobbying done by the Hungarian Cyclists Club.

Even so, this spring's 19 km ride will cross three bridges (Szabadság, Chain and Margit) for the express purpose of highlighting the need for better cycling accommodations over all the city's Danube crossings. So it hasn't been completely defanged.

Sinya's and Kükü's post adds that the return of CM appeared inevitable with or without their support. They say some companies have been looking into creating a more commercial event to make money off the cycling community. The former organisers decided to beat the competition to the punch by backing a version more to their liking.

I'd argued back in 2013 that a more commercial-oriented event might have been a good thing provided that a good share of the proceeds were donated to the Cyclists Club or other worthy non-profit.That doesn't appear to be happening. Even so, I'm happy the Cyclists Club has taken up the mantle so that we can ride again on April 25.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Study explores bike sharing in Szentendre


Péter Dalos, the technical manager of Bubi; Gabor Heves, REC; Mónika Horváth, coordinator of the Szentendre City Architect's Office; Attila Katona, REC; Tamás Kollár of Óbuda University; János Virágh, representative of
the City Services Company;  and me, also REC.
A few days ago, we kicked off a project that could potentially result in a bike-sharing scheme for Szentendre.

The project is a feasibility study, co-funded with EUR 7,500 from the European Commission's CIVITAS Initiative. It will take six months, including a community meeting to gauge local interest, and conclude with a report containing recommendations and a business plan.

The kick-off meeting took place at Szentendre City Hall and involved 10 people: four staff from Szentendre City Hall, the technical manager of the Bubi bike share system in Budapest, a student from the Óbuda University who's both learning from and assisting us, and four staff (me included) from the Regional Environmental Center, based in Szentendre.

Szentendre, 20 km north of downtown Budapest, is a bedroom community. More than half the town's working population of about 10,000 people, commute every morning to Budapest. A line of the suburban rail system, the HEV, offers a non-car option for Budapest-bound commuters, but on the Szentendre end, there's no public transport option for the "last mile" from end station to home.

A bike-share system could be an effective, and relatively inexpensive, way to solve this. And if the system was cleverly integrated with the HEV and Bubi (the Budapest bike-share system launched last summer), you could have an environment-friendly, healthy transport option door to door.

A full report is here
I gave an introduction to the project, in English. My colleague Gabor Heves interpreted in Hungarian, and seemed to  improve on the substance of the talk while he was at it. Thank you, Gabor!

Bubi's Péter Dalos (right) and Tamás Kollár (not pictured) went to the trouble of bringing two Bubi bikes up from Budapest. Both Mónika Horváth (left) János Virágh (center) took them on test rides after our meeting.