Surely every politician’s dream is to have the citizens of their city prefer the bicycle over the car, thus erasing an entire city’s congestion, pollution, health and parking problems?
Not so in Budapest, where bicycle activists have had to fight every step of the way to have bicycle infrastructure included during the building of new roads and bridges.
Budapest highlights this world-wide phenomenon because it is a city that is transitioning from communism, when fewer people owned private cars, and thus it’s only been in recent years that the government has begun to invest in large road building projects, unlike cities like Melbourne where most of the central roads are already in place.
Budapest has a cityscape like no other, with the massive Danube crossed by great bridges, a parliament house fit for a king and the over grown ruins of a by gone era bordering the city’s edge.
If you stand on the hill looking out over the city, you can almost hear the kings of the Ottoman Empire at council and the peasants singing in the fields.
You could, if it wasn’t for the roar of car traffic that now rises up from the two highways that boarder the Danube.
Budapest is an old city, but it’s full of interesting people, not to mention a bunch of bicycle activists, fashion designers and other bicycle sorts intent on building, not just a modern, but a beautiful bicycle city.
For such a small population Budapest boasts an usually high number bicycle entrepreneurs and it runs, twice a year, the world’s biggest Critical Mass, some 20,000 people turn up.
The biggest glitch in the system are the politicians who seem blind to the potential the bicycle provides their city, and also blind to the enthusiasm of their population for a sustainable, cheap and practical transport solution.
Budapest had the perfect opportunity to build the bicycle in, but perfect opportunities have either been completely missed, or completely messed up.
Some 30Billion Hungarian Forints were spent on a new six-lane bridge over the Danube and only one narrow bike lane was included, which is more like a continuation of the pedestrian footpath and makes for a dangerous and chaotic mix.
A new road through the centre of the city didn’t include a bicycle lane at all until Budapest’s bicycle activist demanded one be painted in, and it’s only a few hundred meters long and dangerously narrow.
It’s not like there was no room to include them: there is a central line of trees and grass, a double footpath, a tram stop with platforms, 3 lanes for cars either side, and an extra wide footpath on both sides of the road.
Not including a adequately-sized bicycle lane is simply a matter of having no intention to include it.
A complete lack of intention to make getting about by bicycle an attractive, easy and workable option is not unique to Budapest, but they just seem to be the most obvious and most unusual example given the fact that they are in the process of urbanization as well as having a highly active bicycle community, both of which you would have thought would bring about a great bicycle city, unless the failure was intentional.
Intentional or not is always hard to assess, what’s not hard to assess is simply the What’s So. There is one bicycle What’s So in Budapest, that says it all for me.
A bicycle repair station, situated on the main bicycle route through the city, provides free servicing. It’s seems a great idea, especially considering it’s been generously funded by Mol, Hungary’s biggest oil company.
Look a little closer and Mol’s generosity only extends to the provision of a single hand pump for pumping the tires of an entire city’s bicycle commuter population, either on their way to work or in a rush to get home.
Strange, wouldn’t you say, when air pressure pumps for cars went automatic long ago.