Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Warsaw Uses Common Sense on Bus Lanes

The city of Warsaw, never known as cycling paradise, has taken a step that Budapest's authorities have stubbornly resisted: allowing bicyclists to use bus lanes.

In Budapest (and throughout Hungary) the default rule is that bicycles cannot ride in bus lanes on the grounds that the lanes are too narrow to safely accommodate both modes of transport (nevermind that taxis have carte blanche here).

On rare streets where there is an abundance of width, authorities, if they choose, can post bike signs and/or mark bike lanes that allow for an exception.

However, on most bus priority streets downtown (e.g. on Árpád fejdelem and an Erzsébet híd-Rákóczi út), buses hold sway in the curb lane and cyclists are required to ride in the second lane over, where they're being passed by buses on their right and other traffic on the left. Here's an illustrative video.

In Warsaw, authorities have recognised the absurdity of this situation. Whatever challenges might be posed by opening bus lanes to cyclists, it's more dangerous to force them between lanes of faster-moving traffic. In addition, the Warsaw authorities reasoned that because cyclists make up a relatively small share of traffic (as in Budapest, like it or not), the disruption to bus traffic will probably be tolerable. Warsaw will therefore open one bus lane to cyclists and other single-track vehicles on the trial basis, and then expand the idea depending on results.

In Budapest, so far, they've been very dogmatic about lane-width requirements -- even to the point of creating a dangerous situation for cyclists. The city should follow Warsaw's common-sense approach, and see if a more permissive policy works on an experimental basis.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Illuminating result

Image from fall 2011 Critical Mass borrowed from here.
The results are in from Budapest's latest "ninja" count -- and it shows a significant uptick in the use of bike lamps compared springtime.

As you may recall, the organisers of the city's Critical Mass carried out a pilot survey of bike-lamp use this past March. Volunteer counters across the country observed more than 2,000 cyclists and found that 57 percent were in perfect compliance with requirements (having both front and rear lamps); 77 percent had at least one light (front, rear or both); and 23 percent were riding ninja style, with no lamps at all.

Last week, a follow-up survey was carried out and the improvement was remarkable. The share of cyclists in perfect compliance was up by 12 points to 69 percent; the portion with at least some lighting was up nine points to 86 percent; and the number of “ninjas” was down by nine points to 14 percent. The spreadsheet with the full dataset is available on Google dox here.

In his post on the count, lead organiser Gábor "Kükü" Kürti enthused about the "very positive" results, although cautioning that a more proper comparison will have to wait until March, when numbers can be compared from spring to spring.

Some comments to Kükü's post expressed skepticism that the result could be completely attributable to behavioural change. I'd have to agree that such a major change in mindset and habits would be unlikely to occur in just six months' time.

I was thinking there could be a few other possible explanations:
  • In springtime, you have a lot more fair-weather cyclists who are riding bikes fresh out of storage and, naturally, with dead batteries in their lamps. Whereas in fall, the riders have been riding continuously all summer and their equipment, including lamps, is mainly in working order.
  • Over the last couple of seasons, there's been a huge, and rapid improvement in the bike lamps on offer. The latest LED lights, with multiple diodes, have huge candle power and the batteries never seem to run out. At the same time, Hungarian bike shops are offering more and more commuter-style bikes that are pre-equipped with front and rear lamps powered by dynamos. It could very well be that the better offer on the marketplace has had a positive impact on lamp use even during the last six months.
  • More optimistically, we all know there have been lots of new people taking up cycling during the last couple seasons. It could be that these relative latecomers to everyday cycling are generally more safety-conscious than the more kemény mag (hardcore) types who dominated the scene earlier. At any rate, I've noticed a lot more cyclists during the last season or two who are wearing reflective vests and jerseys, along with headlamps and other lights, than I used to.
Whatever the cause of the increase, it seems to me that even last spring's results were positive enough to disspell the prejudice that cyclists are a bunch of heedless sociopaths. Even the first survey showed that the overwhelming majority of night riders had at least one working lamp on their bike. That indicated to me that most people want to ride safe -- even if only for selfish reasons of personal security. The fact that some of these had a missing lamp or one with dead batteries is not a sign of willful disregard of the law or public safety. At worst, it's a sign of procrastination or forgetfulness. 

The latest survey gives hope that there's something afoot that's influencing more people to ride with working lamps. It'll be interesting to see if the good numbers hold up in the springtime.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Second Periodic Nationwide Ninja Count

The guys at are organising a nationwide bike-lamp count tonight from 7-7:20. They're seeking volunteers to stake out positions on local bike routes during this time window and count all passing cyclists and the extent to which each one complies with traffic code requirements on lighting.

This is the second time such a count has been done; the first was conducted last March. In that one, volunteers took counts at 85 sites, 48 in Budapest and the rest in 21 smaller towns and cities. In total, 2,461 cyclists were counted. The overall result was that 57 percent were in perfect compliance with the rules, having functional front and rear lamps; a further 20 percent had one good lamp (either front or rear); and 23 had no lamp at all ("bike ninjas" in the bike-world parlance).

As Critical Mass organiser Gábor Kürti noted in his post about these results, one of the main causes of accidents involving cyclists is that the cyclists simply aren't noticed. Few would argue that having lamps can help alleviate the problem -- at least at night time.

The 23 percent of cyclists riding around as ninjas is far too high, in Kürti's opinion, and he hopes these regular counts, once or twice per year, will help raise awareness of the problem and track its evolution.

If you'd like to take part in the count, it's quite simple. The directions, in Hungarian, are given here:

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Accident waiting to happen ... happens again

About a week after posting about an accident at "the most dangerously located bike/pedestrian crossing in the city," I came upon this frightening scene at the very same intersection. I don't know any details about what happened. I noticed the wreckage during my morning ride to work, and I reckon it happened the night before.    

From the visible evidence, it was apparently a single-car collision (an Opel logo and bits and pieces from a radiator are strewn about next to the mangled guard rail and stop sign). 

This is the bike path crossing of Újlaki rakpart (recently renamed "Slachta Margit rakpart," between Timár utca and Árpád híd). The problem with it is that it's right in the middle of zigzag of the street: essentially invisible to motorists coming from either direction until they get within about 20 metres. The only way to approach it safely is to go very slow, although the speed limit on Újlaki is 50 kph -- and average speeds are 60-70, I would guess.

So within the space of a week, I was witness to two accidents at the very same intersection (or, at least, one accident and the aftermath of a second). What are the chances of that? I'm interested to know if local authorities keep track of accident hotspots and whether or not this makes the hot 100.