|Szentendre City Hall's surveying for a scapegoat.|
Last month, City Hall commissioned a "technical study" to see if the 6.5 kilometer stretch of Route 11 inside Szentendre could be opened to bike traffic. This follows several years of lobbying by a handful of cycling activists in Szentendre who are fed up with being banned from the city's main public road because of their environment-friendly choice of transport.
Cyclists who ride on Route 11 (myself included, full disclosure) routinely get pulled over and scolded by police and some have been fined. You can get a fine for even crossing the road by bike, which is crazy, because you need to cross Route 11 to get from the Budapest bike path on the west side of the road to the Szentendre bike path just opposite. You can make this passage through an unlit service tunnel, but it's inconvenient and especially useless if you're carrying baggage (as touristic cyclists on Eurovelo 6 do in summer).
When cyclists first lobbied on the issue years ago, City Hall deflected the question to another entity, the Hungarian Road Authority (Magyar Közút Nonprofit Zrt.). But under sustained pressure by the local branch of the Hungarian Cyclists Club, the City Council agreed to appeal to Magyar Kozut to see if the ban could be lifted. The road authority, although reluctant to make the change, eventually agreed it would defer to the city's wishes. The local cycling lobby was told that the cycling ban had been lifted, and now it was just a matter of putting up signage and painting lanes to seal the deal.
But this isn't what has happened. Instead, the matter's is being subjected to a technical study and it's once again unclear whether cyclists will get their way. In fact, from the sound of the latest official communication, the new study is City Hall's way of deflecting responsibility yet again:
"Many would like to be able to cycle on Route 11, but according to others, the already busy, often congested road is not suitable for safe bicycle travel," the announcement states. City Hall, therefore, "takes no stance on the matter."
What's worse, according to inside sources, is that City Hall is pressuring the engineering firm undertaking the study to dampen the expectations of cyclists. Somebody at City Hall has actually scolded the firm for making "optimistic statements" about the study. The firm was told not to make any public statements on the study at all.
As far as I can see, the city had hoped deflect the question onto outside experts in the hope it could be rejected on technical grounds. This would relieve officials from making a political decision.
It's a ruse. The only thing that makes cycling unsafe on Route 11 is fast-moving car traffic. Barring big investments in separated bike paths (which will not happen), the city would need to make some on-road bike lanes and to reduce the road's speed limit, say to 40 km/h. This is not a technical challenge, it's a political one: Does the City Council support it or not?
A small glimmer of hope is that there is an element of stakeholder consultation in the study: It's being carried out in cooperation with Magyar Közút; City Hall officials and the Szentendre branch of Hungarian Cyclists Club.
Now would be a very good time for cyclists to speak up on the issue, telling the mayor they support the Cycling Club and its efforts to allow bike traffic on the street. If you agree, please send a note, in Hungarian if possible but no necessarily, to the mayor at email@example.com.