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.