Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Bikes and buses the latest bedfellows

After a years-long lobbying effort, Budapest cyclists are finally being allowed to ride in several downtown bus lanes.

Earlier this month, the Budapest Transport Centre (BKK), the umbrella organisation overseeing all aspects of city transport, designated 10 bus lanes that will now also be open to cyclists. The lanes, marked with yellow bicycle icons, include one long artery in Buda and nine shorter sections in central Pest. In total, they run more than 4.5 km.

Perhaps the most significant is the one in Buda, on Fő utca between Bem József tér and a Clark Ádám tér. This will serve as the non-touristic cycling alternative to the Buda korzó path, which has become a conflict zone in recent years because of the colliding interests of its diverse users. It draws loads of tourists, on foot and on bike, as well as strollers, dogs, roller skaters and others, many moving at a liesurely pace. Weaving in and out amongst these users are sport and fitness cyclists, racing at top speed on graphite frame road bikes, as well as utility cyclists trying to get from point A to B as quickly and efficiently as they can.

There's long been discussion of creating a parallel, faster route for the latter categories of cyclists, and it appears the new shared bike-bus lane on Fő utca will be it.

But the main news here is the long-awaited opening of priority bus lanes to cyclists. The ban on cycling in these lanes has been a sore point because it has meant cyclists have just two unappealing choices: either ride along the curb illegally, and deal with the honking censure of BKK bus drivers or ride legally but unsafely in the second lane over. In that position, faster motor traffic passes the cyclist on both the left and right, creating an uncomfortable and potentially dangerous situation.

Karoly Sinka, a leader of the city’s Critical Mass movement, pointed this out in a presentation this summer to recruits of the city’s new bicycle patrol squad. Sinka noted that enforcing the ban is not only bad for cyclists, it’s bad for motorists because cyclists in the middle of a multilane road pose a bigger obstruction to traffic than those riding along the curb.

According to BKK, the new bike-bus lanes are part of a package of preparatory measures for Budapest’s public bicycle system, Bubi, due to launch 2013.

In its web announcement about the lanes, the bicycle club said it hopes further bike-bus lanes will follow because they are “inexpensive and safe developments.” The club included a list of pointers on how cyclists should ride in the lanes (e.g. don’t overtake buses on the right side, pull to the side at cross streets to allow trailing buses by, etc.). The club also promised to host classes for bus drivers to orient them on the new bike-bus lanes.

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