Saturday, October 27, 2012

Ferenciek tere project neglects the main problem

Artist's conception of the refashioned Ferenciek tere. View from the south side of Ferenciek tere
looking down Kossuth Lajos ut toward bridge. Image is taken from a 3-D montage at the project website.
Work will begin next month on a major refashioning of Ferenciek tere and Marcius 15 tér, two squares at the Pest foot of Erzsébet híd that until now have been blighted by the noise and stench of some of the city's worst traffic. Unfortunately, despite the project's many virtues, it looks to be a wasted opportunity to improve cycling conditions.

According to the description published on the website of the Budapest Transport Centre (BKK), the changes will make for "a much more livable, cleaner and more attractive downtown environment" that will make it worthy of its place along the capital's touristic and recreational belt.

Ferenciek tere today: the only way for pedestrians to cross it is to go down through the underpass.

The biggest improvements are from walkers' point of view. They'll get two zebras across Kossuth Lajos utca, enabling them to cross on the surface rather than having to go down through underpass by the Ferenciek tere metro stop. This long overdue change will enable people with disabilities to cross the street and make it more convenient for everyone else.

Ferenciek tere AFTER: The project would replace the underpass with a level crossing that's more accessible to everyone.
Although difficult to perceive in the conceptual images, pedestrian space on both sides of Kossuth Lajos utca will be widened and, together with some plantings, visual improvements and expanded "shopping opportunities", the square should be a more inviting place for residents and tourists alike.

From cyclists' point of view, though, what sticks out is the absence of any bike lanes along the Kossuth Lajos utca. It's ironic that while the project includes upgrades to all the side streets in the area, it does hardly anything to the major artery of Kossuth Lajos, the main source of the neighbourhood's environmental problems.

Four local environmental groups have therefore criticised the project because it does little to alleviate the "the terribly noisy, polluted motorway atmosphere." In a joint statement, reported on hvg.hu, the groups say that although they supported the project throughout preparatory discussions, their main concerns were always for bike accommodation on Kossuth Lajos (and Rákóczi út -- the whole length of the street between Keleti Station and Erzsébet hid) along with the realigning of bus routes down the centre of the street (this as a preliminary measure paving the way for the return of tram service).

Bike accommodation on Kossuth Lajos  has been a priority of the bicycle lobby at least since the mid-90s. Removing (some) space from cars and giving it over to cyclists and pedestrians would restore life to the street, rehabilitate local retail and make for a huge improvement in residents' lives. But at every opportunity, including a major road resurfacing about eight years ago, officials at City Hall have said no. With a straight face, they say there's no room for bicycles, despite this street being the widest arterial in the city.

This enormous urban freeway, with its six lanes of fast-moving, heavy motor traffic, now cuts downtown in two, and makes going from one side to the other a hassle -- certainly if you're on a bike. I hope the upcoming project at Ferenciek tere is a first step toward solving the problem, and not the city's final word on it.

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