So Sunday at a big climate change event in Istanbul, I make the case for bicycling as part of the answer to this city's traffic problems.
The traffic snarls here are legendary. It's like rush hour maybe 18 hours a day. Last night we took a cab down along the Bosphorous coast on the European side. It was 8:30 p.m. but traffic was stop start all the way. After 10 minutes watching pedestrians pass us by, we paid our fare and hit the pavement ourselves. Istanbul is a great city for walking, lots of stuff to see and even with the lack of crosswalks, you can always squeeze through traffic because it's often not moving.
Not great for cycling at all. City has a plan to build 1,004 km of cycling tracks, but so far just 40 km have been built. Public transport is very scarce for a city of this size. So everyone's by car and there's no dedicated space for bikes.
At this event, Al Gore's Climate Reality Leadership training, there are about 580 attendees. One guy came by bike, an Istanbul colleague of mine at the REC named Aren. He says he bikes everywhere. It's the only way to travel here with any predictability. On four wheels, you're subject to traffic disruptions and jams, so you have to give yourself an hour safety margin if you have an important meeting to get to. By bike, you may have to suck a lot of exhaust, but you never get stuck, he said. Reminded me of my experience in Paris -- tons of traffic but it was normally moving so slowly that it didn't seem threatening.
Friday, June 14, 2013
Monday, June 10, 2013
|I'd say this cyclist is enjoying a wider than average berth -- yet she's still forced to ride in the rain gutter.|
No particular design or approach has been proposed. Instead, Trenecon has been asked to look at all the possibilities, including:
- bike lanes (as on the kiskörút)
- bike tracks, grade-separated lanes between the sidewalks and the carriageway (these are common in Denmark and the Netherlands, but they've never been implemented in Budapest)
- sharrows, bike ways that motorists could legally ride over when they're not occupied by cyclists. (The chevrons on the outside lanes across Margit híd are sharrows.)
BKK might find there's just enough space to squeeze in exclusive bike lanes that just meet the minimum legal width. But this would be far from ideal on such a busy street. With taxis rushing by at 50-60 kph, you want a comfortable distance between them and your left handlegrip.
Unavoidably, the best possible solution would be to sacrifice car lanes. With the freed space, there'd not only be room for adequately wide, exclusive bike ways, but also expanded space for walking, restaurant and cafe seating, benches, greenery -- maybe even a fountain somewhere. This would not only be a major boon for cycling, it would calm the street, revive retail and recreation and generally improve neighbourhood livability. A good reference would be Oktober 6 utca -- Petofi Sandor utca, the once congested through street in District V that is now a destination in its own right.
Thursday, June 6, 2013
|With all that open road, I couldn't stick to the speed limit.|
For cyclists, though, the flood's not been a problem. In fact, yesterday on the Buda quay, the flood made bike commuting even faster. I hate to gloat in front of my four-wheeled friends, but when I hit the freshly closed embankment north of Margit híd, I FLEW!!
Reminded me of those magic months a few years ago when the embankment was closed for a sewerage project. People were out on running, skating, pushing strollers and riding bikes, with an abundance of space rarely seen outside of Wyoming.
After rocketing non-stop all the way to the Graphisoft Park, I downshifted to subsonic speed and slalomed through the police road blocks along Királyok útja / Nánási út. (With the exception of one cop who told me I should ride on the sidewalk (according to Hungarian traffic rules, this is actually illegal unless you're under age 12), police basically turned a blind eye to cyclists. This has been a very easy way to get around.
|The fearsome Hungarian rendôrség takes charge near Római part.|
I rode along Eurovelo 6 route on the riverside for a ways, then through strawberry fields around Budakalász. Finally got up to Szentendre, which is putting its brand-new mobile dike through the paces. If you're curious about what the powers that be have in mind for Római part, this is a good reference. The difference, of course, is that in Szentendre, the mobile dike is merely replacing a section of a conventional earthen dike that has been there for decades. In Római part, they'll have to build it up from scratch, which will mean a drastic transformation of the river bank.
|Traffic jam on the Buda embankment|
|At a low point between Szépvölgyi utca and Tímár utca, the water was already over the road, so had to jump up onto the bike path.|
|Skaters on the embankment -- what's the world coming to??|
|At this point, the Eurovelo signage was leading me astray.|
|This road through Budakalász is restricted to local motor traffic -- but transiting cyclists are no problem.|
|A U-pick (szedd magad) strawberry field near Budakalász.|
|Atop the old dike in Szentendre, and looking at the new mobile dike around the bend.|
|Southern end of the Szentendre mobile dike.|
|At the north end of the Szentendre dike, it's a simple concrete wall. Workers are doing finishing touches with cut-stone facing.|
Wednesday, June 5, 2013
|Along the Romai part bike path.|
Every buffet and restaurant was closed and everything that wasn't anchored down had been moved to higher ground. The water had already covered parts of the bike path, making it impossible to ride the whole length of the embankment without taking inland detours.
Many of the property owners down here, including the boat houses and the concession stands, will just let their properties get flooded. Some of the homes, though, are surrounded by big barricades and they were fortifying these with sandbags in hopes of keeping dry.
The lowest-lying bierstube along here, Fellini bisztro, consists of a repurposed diner car and a bunch of beach furniture. It had all been trucked away by the time I arrived Tuesday around 6 p.m.
Public controversy has erupted over a plan to create a mobile dike along this section of Romai part. It would involve bulldozing earth some 50 metres into the river and cutting down scores willow and cottonwood trees along a bank that's popular precisely because of its natural state. Along with boat houses and beer stands, people come to Romai part for recreational rides on the Eurovelo 6 international bike route.
The dike proposal is driven by the owners of some newer developments that displaced old, flood-friendly boat houses. They shouldn't have been granted building permits, but they were, and now they have the support of the Budapest Municipality for a HUF 4 billion flood protection project to protect their properties.
These plans are now awaiting technical approvals from river protection authorities. If the level of this flood exceeds the height of the planned new bulwark, it will be proven a vain effort. The river level is expected to to crest over the weekend. We'll see what happens.
|The entrance to Matyas Kiraly ut will be closed to seal this gap in the existing flood wall.|
|Water rising at a boat house launching dock.|
|This bike rack was one of the few things not taken away in the evalcuation of the Fellini bisztro.|
|Same place as above, circa July 2011, during dryer times.|
|Part of the Fellini's kitchen also stayed behind.|
|This section of the Romai part bike path was already impassable Tuesday.|
|Closed due to flooding.|
|To the right, one of the new flood-averse developments on the Romai part.|
|The south end of the Romai part bike path is closed til further notice.|
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
|Poppies, May 29, about a kilometre north of Budakalasz on the bike path next to Route 11.|
I first came across this sight last Thursday. It seemed like practically overnight the grassy overgrowth lining the bike path north of Budakalasz had burst into colour.
|Taken with a Canon PowerShot SD1300 IS (nothing fancy, but sometimes makes a nice shot).|
The stills came out well, and they give their own sort of visual pleasure. But I reckon no digital facsimile can match the real-life experience of riding your bike through a field of poppies in full bloom. It's a real treat and -- now for the inevitable editorial -- not something you're going to get commuting by car.
Thursday, May 9, 2013
|When Sequoia heard Budapest was ranked the no. 13 cycling city in the world, she just laughed.|
My first reaction at seeing this? You've got to be kidding! Budapest, Hungary?! Where I was nearly decapitated by a hedge after riding into a pothole the size of Kim Kardashian's butt? Where they won't allow cyclists on the main streets in the city because there's no room?? Where the name of the much anticipated public bike system is a homonym for the mildly vulgar English term for a woman's breast??
Who are the idiots who make these listings, anyway?
Then I remembered it was me. Or at least partly me. The Copenhagenize Index is a sort-of "group-source" thing relying on some 400 local yokels who do self-evaluations of their own cities. They don't compare and contrast cities, but just rate their own scene, albeit according to standardized criteria given by Copenhagenize. Each city is supposed to be evaluated by multiple volunteers, so there's some triangulation. You can look over the index questions and methodology yourself.
Although memory doesn't serve as well as it used to, I don't think I gushed about Budapest in my own evaluation. I remember being generally critical. But I may have let some local pride skew my score upward. Or maybe it was another Budapest local who exaggerated the city's virtues.
In any case, no. 13 in the world seems like an AWFULLY high rating for Budapest. That puts us one step ahead of Paris, which back in 2005, I proposed as a good model for Budapest. Have the tables turned since then? I don't believe they have. Velib has been expanding since its launch in 2007, while Bubi is already two years past the originally announced roll out. Meanwhile, the Paris Respire and Plage schemes, where streets are closed to motor traffic every weekend of the summer, help promote active transport and better quality of life. Budapest has had only occasional one-off street closures -- usually on European Mobility Week.
Or take London, which didn't even crack the Index's top 20. I was in London last fall, and tried out the Boris Bikes and Barclay's Cycle Superhighways -- impressive investments that had been implemented in the previous couple years. Budapest cycling investment during the same period paled by comparison.
Of course, Budapest does have its good points. They're pretty much the same now as they were in 2011, when Budapest was ranked no.11 in the Copenhagenize Index. No other city beats Budapest Critical Mass. And largely because of the local CM, there is today a large, enthusiastic population of citizen cyclists who are out braving Budapest traffic everyday despite potholes the size of Kim Kardashian's butt. As the Index explains, "Budapest is a regional leader in bicycle culture but without political will and a modern desire for mobility change, their role will be overtaken by others." Amen to that!
Monday, April 29, 2013
Gábor was right: In downtown Pest, new priority bike-bus lanes have opened on Bajcsy-Zsilinszky út. These follow the city policy adopted last summer of allowing cyclists to share priority bus lanes on important city arterials. Previously, cyclists were officially banned from bus lanes, which was a sort-of policy contradiction -- on all other streets (barring those with dedicated cycling lanes), cyclists are required to stay in the lane closest to the curb.
Of course, the opening of the bus lanes to cyclists is really just a matter of new paint. But in Bajcsy's case, it has involved more paint than usual. The lanes are marked every 20 or 30 metres with big red boxes emblazoned with the word "bus" and an icon of a bike. It makes for a very clear signal that the traffic regime has changed in favour of cyclists. In similar lanes in Budapest, the only indication that bikes are welcome is an occasional yellow icon.
Perhaps one of the reasons for the lavish deployment of paint is the history of political conflict over Bajcsy. About 10 years ago, when the city was preparing to resurface it, the cycling lobby was invited to propose solutions for cycling accommodation. The cyclists said they wanted bike lanes on both sides of the road -- following good western examples. Typically, the city countered that there was no room (a joke considering Bajcsy is one of the widest streets in the city). Cyclists were offered a narrow, two-way path on the western sidewalk. Cyclists were loathe to accept this because it would take space from pedestrians. But ultimately, they decided that something was better than nothing, and that with thoughtful execution, they might mitigate cyclist-pedestrian conflicts. And on the positive side, they reasoned, a sidewalk-based path might induce a few car-fearing people to join the ranks of Budapest cyclists.
In the event, the path was very clearly marked and separated from walking space -- more so than on any other sidewalk bike path in Budapest (compare it with the half-hearted efforts at separation on the Buda korzó, for instance). Critical Mass honcho Gábor Kürti has been apologising for the deal with the devil ever since, but it has to be admitted that the Bajcsy path has been very well used and probably did serve as a useful stepping stone in the evolution of Budapest's cycling infrastructure.
I've been up and down the new lanes a couple times by now, and they are certainly a step forward. Now, if you're going south-to-north on the bike lane on the kiskörút, you can go straight through the intersection with Andrássy út without having to stop and get over to the sidewalk path. And if you're heading toward the river on Andrássy, you can turn right on Bajcsy and continue as a motorist would.
It's easier but still not ideal. Sharing lanes with buses -- and taxis, as well -- is not for the faint-hearted. As on all Budapest thoroughfares, motor traffic is fast moving and aggressive and on a bike you feel exposed. These lanes are a rung up on the evolutionary ladder, but there's a way to go yet. A next step could be grade-separated cycle tracks to get cyclists out of harm's way. Beyond that, traffic could be calmed, sidewalk space enlarged and tramlines extended through from the other side of Andrássy. This won't happen overnight, but Bajcsy's current incarnation as a private-car motorway is looking more and more like an anachronism.