Friday, April 22, 2016

Cycling ban to be lifted on Szentendre Route 11

After years of being closed to cyclists, Route 11 in Szentendre will get advisory bike lanes.
It sounds as if the ban on cycling on Route 11 in Szentendre will finally be lifted. However, the timeline is murky and public authorities have made no public announcement on the matter.

Last week, a technical plan for the changes was presented in a closed-door meeting of stakeholders, including the Hungarian Cyclists' Club (MK).

As MK's staff engineer Miklós Radics explained in Facebook post, the ban will be lifted, but the road will be given only minimal cycling accommodations.

"They plan wide outside car lanes (at least 4.25m or more) with bike sharrows," Radics wrote.

Radics explained that the Szentendre section of Route 11 is not wide enough to accommodate the existing cars lanes and proper bike lanes. So the plan instead calls for sharrows, otherwise known as "advisory bike lanes", which motorists can drive on legally. An example of sharrows in Budapest are on Margit Bridge -- they're marked with chevrons and cycling pictograms rather than a solid line separating cyclists from motor traffic.

"It's not the best and most bike-friendly solution, but it's still a big step if we compare it with the nonsensical prohibition," Radics said.

"Moving the curbs and redesigning the whole road won't happen in the coming years. The municipality and the road maintenance company (Magyar Közút) will co-fund the budget for the repaint."

The plan was based on a study by the engineering consultancy Tandem Kft. on a commission by Szentendre City Hall.  Staff from Tandem revealed the study's results and recommendations last week to a group of select stakeholders, but neither City Hall or Magyar Közút have make any public announcement on the subject.

A representative from the Szentendre branch of the Hungarian Cyclists Club said they would prepare their own announcement on the scheme in the coming days.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Mayor Kicks the Hornets' Nest

What was he thinking?
The April 23 cycling demonstration (formerly Critical Mass, now I Bike Budapest) is shaping up into a political showdown with Mayor István Tarlós.
Tarlós declared back in February that he believed cycling development in downtown had gone too far (while also claiming Budapest had become an "extremely public-transport oriented" city). In recent days, activists circulated an official document showing Tarlós's point-by-point plan of paring back pro-cycling measures. In it, the mayor declares he would:
  1. no longer prioritise the creation of bike routes that offer the shortest path from points A to B;
  2. no longer paint yellow bicycle pictograms on streets that also have separate sidewalk bike paths;
  3. revisit recently created bike contraflow lanes on one-way streets (about 120 such lanes in the city) and remove them except in exceptional circumstances;
  4. not allow bicycle traffic in bus lanes unless the lanes are at least 4.5 metres wide;
  5. on streets with bike lanes, prohibit cyclists from riding in bus lanes (undoubtedly, this applies to Bajcsy-Zsilinszky, although the bike accommodation there is technically a "bike path" not a lane)
Afterwards, published a point-by-point response to the proposals, explaining how all of them have improved the bikeability of the city, and how Tarlós's proposals would reverse this progress. The Index article follows a more exhaustive set of recommendations concerning the next 10 years of cycling development from the Hungarian Cyclists Club. Both documents were written with care, with all propositions backed with evidence and reasoned arguments.

The mayor's response could not be described as reasonable. It was rather hysterical. The short communiqué signed by the mayor's communications director called the backlash to Tarlós's proposals:
"... a mysterious defamation campaign instigated by the tabloid press whose claims nearly violate the criminal code and border on slander."
The statement goes on to say that the mayor has "never called for the ending of cycling development" and that over the past  20 years, cycling development has never been as good as it has been during Tarlós's term.

And then it claims that "rational cycling development" is not the same as "the unrestrained terror of a minority of radical cyclists".

It seems to me that the one guilty of slander is Tarlós. The people he's calling a radical minority are the organisers and participants of the city's most popular civil movement since the founding of the democratic state. The Critical Mass ride (now re-branded as I Bike Budapest) has always drawn tens of thousands of participants -- in 2013 it drew an estimated 100,000. It's mainstream. The Hungarian Cyclists Club is a well-established NGO -- the biggest cycling lobbying group in the country, not a radical fringe group. And, although obviously differing with the mayor politically, is one of the most visited news portals in Hungary.

Tarlós has really kicked a hornets' nest with this one. And his timing couldn't be better. Expect a big turned out for I Bike Budapest.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Pretext for removing bike-bus lanes?

The fast way to bike Bajcsy.
It looks like the mayor is getting set to close down Budapest's ground-breaking shared bus-bike lanes on Bajcsy-Zsilinszky ut. Mayor István Tarlós declared earlier this year that he didn't approve of the lanes -- or practically anything else that has to do with non-car urban transport. And in recent days, city road crews have been spotted conducting traffic counts of cyclists using the lanes, according to a post on the I Bike Budapest Facebook page. Looks like a pretext for shutting the lanes to bike traffic.

The bike-bus lanes were created in spring 2013 as an alternative to the narrow two-way bike lane on Bajcsy's west-side sidewalk. For various reasons, many cyclists prefer to ride on the street on Bajcsy, but because buses are prioritised on the Bajcsy's outside lanes, cyclists were not allowed to ride there.

By law, unless cyclists are given explicit permission to share a bus lane, they're supposed to ride in the second lane over, and not along the curb where slower traffic normally belongs. It was a contradiction in the traffic regime: In order to ride legally, cyclists had to ride between lanes of faster motor traffic. It's a dangerous place to be and shared bike-bus lanes were meant to correct the problem.

The mayor has said he doesn't like cyclists to be in bus lanes because it slows down bus traffic. Which is an odd justification for a mayor who otherwise seems opposed to buses -- or any form of transport other than a single-passenger occupied vehicle.

Bad times for sustainable transport in Budapest. But a good time to be an activist.