Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Bucharest launches city-bike scheme

Cicloteque is the name of Europe's latest municipal city-bike scheme, launched the first part of August in Bucharest. With just 100 bikes, it's much more modest in scale than the widely publicised schemes of cities such as Paris, Barcelona and Lyon -- yet it's encouraging to see a progressive step taken in a fellow new member state of the EU.

I wrote an earlier post on the possibility of Budapest getting a similar scheme rolling. http://cyclingsolution.blogspot.com/2008/07/free-bikes-in-budapest.html

The service is marketed as a means of transport, providing an alternative to cars and public transportation. It was created by the NGO Mai Mult Verde http://www.maimultverde.ro (director Dragos Bucurenci pictured left at Cicloteque's launch event) and UniCredit Tiriac bank. The first batch of 100 bikes was installed at the campus of the University of Bucharest. To use the bikes, you have to first pay an annual registration fee of 100 Lei (EUR 30) and an hourly 2 Lei (EUR 0.50) or daily 20 Lei (EUR 5) usage fee.

Mai Mult Verde's stated purpose was to improve urban mobility in the congested capital and to protect the environment. Bucharest has 1.2 private cars, which emit an estimated 125 tonnes of lead every year.

Just as Paris's Velib is financially backed by a commercial partner (JC Decaux advertising firm) Cicloteque got its money from a commercial partner who saw the venture as a good publicity tool. The local branch of Unicredit bank put up 100% of the initial investment of EUR 150,000, which covered the purchase of 100 bikes, the cost of the launch event, as well as the installation of 20 bike racks throughout Bucharest (The racks are just for short stops -- so far, the only place you can pick up and drop off bikes is at Cicloteque's single depot on the university campus.)

Just three weeks after the system's launch, there are 200 subscribers, according to Miruna Cugler, communications manager at Mai Mult Verde. Plans for the future include more bikes and more depots around the city.

In addition, Mai Mult Verde plans to lobby for more bike paths and routes around the city. At present, Bucharest has just a few bike paths, most of which are swarming with pedestrians and other users. The poor quality and quantity of paths mean that urban bike users have to jostle with motor traffic to get anywhere, a situation familiar to cyclists in Budapest.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

New cycling master plan for Budapest

This month marked the release of a new cycling plan for Budapest. An English-language, thumbnail sketch of it can be found at http://www.eltis.org/show_news.phtml?newsid=1245&mainID=461.
The complete document (in Hungarian only) can be downloaded here http://kerekparosklub.hu/vitaanyag.

I haven't had time to give it a close look, but can say that it's an attractive, professional-looking document. And from my conversations with the people who put it together (staff at the Hungarian Cycling Club and experts from the Budapest Technical University and the COWI consulting company), it will no doubt represent a positive turn towards state-of-the-art planning, with several references to good international examples.

For example, the plan encourages a move away from segregated facilities toward lanes that integrate cyclists with motor traffic. On two-way streets, it encourages bike lanes on both sides of the street for both directions of traffic (with the exception of Andrassy, facilities in Budapest are generally single-track, shared-use, segregated facilities). And it stresses the importance of integrating cycling planning with general urban planning rather than introducing it as a retrofit or afterthought.

So, it'll be several days before I can read through the whole document, but it's already clear the underlying philosophy is a good one -- more enlightened than what we've seen before and one that treats cycling not just as a form of recreation but as a means of everyday transport.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Sziget festival angers, charms cyclist

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Oh brother. I realize that I've been duped by the Sziget Festival's slick communications. In my previous post, I praised the organisers for having a free-of-charge, attended parking facility for bicycles. Somehow, this little gesture distracted me from the bigger picture, which is that the Sziget's ticket booths at the main entrance completely block the main north-south bike path on the Buda side.

I don't know why I forgot to mention this -- I commute everyday between Budapest and Szentendre, and during the week of Sziget it becomes virtually impossible to get past the Filitorigat HÉV stop due to the logjam of humanity coming on and off the island. No exageration -- the line of people between the HÉV stop and the festival entrance fully occupies about 200 metres of the path, and the few times I tried to get through it with my bike, it took an eternity (well maybe 15-20 minutes -- but that's a hell of a long time to bike 200 metres).

Anyway, I hate being a crank -- especially as I know the Sziget Festival has been barraged by cranks from the day it started back in the early 1990s. Still, this is a serious inconvenience for those of us who commute on this path on a daily basis and I felt I should at least raise the issue just to make sure organisers know it IS an issue.

So I sent a non-cranky note of complaint, and two days later I got this thoughtful, non-cranky reply.

Dear Greg,

Thank you for contacting us.

I see what you are talking about. The problem is, that there is no other place where we could put the ticket offices (we can not build them on the highway, can we?). Unfortunatelly the bicycle road is by the bridge where our visitors comes in. So even, if our tents would not be there it would be a big problem to cross the junction with the bike, as people are crossing it non stop.

However, the bikers still can use the road in this junction. And than return to the bicycle route. (The police has closed the Jégtörő street for cars but not for bikers.)

There are 3,5 days left.... So please have patient. It will be over soon.

Thank you for your understanding.
Best wishes,

This note is really nice. My only quibble would be its unconscious, car-centric prejudice: "We can not build them on the highway, can we?" If it were up to me, that's EXACTLY where I'd build them. Afterall, the only thing the highway is used for is cars -- and I think I speak for about 9 people when I say -- who gives a damn about cars?

But other than that, this was an exceptionally conscientious reply and I'm inclined to drop the issue right here. For the week of the festival, I'm taking a detour out onto the highway, Route 11, which is very busy (read "choked with motor traffic") but I already ride on it for part of my commute so it's not a big deal.

Incidentally, the option that INFO suggested in his/her reply is a good one. Jégtörő út is the name of the quay road next to Filitorigat. With it being closed to motor traffic, it makes a convenient and scenic way to cycle between the festival and downtown Budapest.

Anyway, looks like with a little understanding, biking and rocking can still go hand in hand.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Cycling to the Sziget Festival

As in years past, you can bike out to the Sziget festival (August 13-18 at Hajogyari Island) and leave your bike in a free-of-charge, attended parking facility. In addition to secure parking, you can also get minor repairs and maintenance done. Check out the blurb on the English-language page at

For those who've never biked out there, the Buda entrance at the Filatorigat HÉV stop is along a designated bike route. Get on the Budai rakpart path and follow the signs. After you pass the Aquincum Hotel, the path diverges from the HÉV tracks at Arpad hid and goes on cobblestones through Fô tér at Óbuda and the housing estate immediately to the north. After that, you're directed back toward the HÉV tracks and you'll soon see the massing crowds of Sziget revelers.

Sorry to say, I have no idea if there's an easy way to penetrate the crowd or whether you just have to line up with everyone else and find the bike park after you gain admittance. Presumably, you can get these directions when you finally get the head of the line. Best of luck!