Wednesday, September 23, 2009

More than a Critical Mass of cyclists in Budapest

Last night I attended the Critical Mass in Budapest for the first time. Critical Mass is a world-wide event that usually takes place once a month. Read more about it here. In Budapest, however, the Critical Mass only happens twice a year but they have an amazing number of participants. In spring of 2008 there were about 80.000 citizens cycling on Budapest's streets.

Official Critical Mass logo

This time the event was slightly different, more "radical" meaning without police escort. According to different sources about 10.000 to 20.000 cyclists hit the road. It was amazing to see so many different people. For example, there was a choir in yellow T-shirts. I saw bike messengers as well as sporty riders and everyday cyclists. Among all of them there was us, the participants of the Mobility Week Workshop.

Finish girls on rent bikes at the Critical Mass
Sonja (on the left) will be co-blogging here soon

Neverending mass of cyclists

In the beginning of the evening the city hall was surrounded. Later on the mass started to move slowly. Quite slowly in fact. Traffic rules were obeyed. In the beginning we cycled in a big bulk, but later that split up and small subgroups were cycling through the town. I quite enjoyed that. One could see cyclists everywhere, but didn't have the feeling of being in some boring organized crowd.

In the end, however, everybody again gathered at Deák tér for the obligatory bike lift. I'm quite proud of myself that I could lift my heavy steal-framed bike including accessories :-).

Bike lift at Deák square in the end

For more insight you should read through Greg's impressions (as he is a local) and the website of Critical Mass Hungary.

The day before I met Mikael from Copenhagen Cycle Chic and on a Cycling Lifestyles Workshop organized by the Hungarian Cycle Chic (thanks again to Ádám from the Hungarian Cyclists' Club for the translations to English). So there might be another outsider's view of the Critical Mass on his blogs too.

To finish all this and come back to the title of the post, I wish that Budapest and Hungary in general will see so many people cycling every day. Currently I have the impression that many subcultures exist, but not yet a culture of cycling that addresses everyone. All the best to achieve that!

See Mikael's video of the Critical Mass in Budapest: Budapest Bike Ride with 20,000 Friends


Anonymous said...

It is really mysterious: nobody understands how it is possible that there are so few everyday cyclists on the streets of Budapest, but so extremely many people attending the critical mass rides. No one really understands how this is possible.

My explanation: many people WANT to go by bicycle in Budapest, everyday. But they are too afraid (because of the heavy traffic). So they only come if it is safe - which is the case on critical mass rides.

Other ideas?


Filigree said...

80 thousand citizens attending Critical Mass in Hungary?.. I am trying to picture it, but my imagination is straining. Wow!

Adams Family said...

Of course, we have Critical mass every month's last friday. We call it Minimal mass compared to the great numbers on Earth day, or Car free day Critical mass.

Greg Spencer said...

Re: question from 'vicious' about why Bp has a lot more CM riders than everyday riders.

Yes, it must be at least in part the lousy cycling infrastructure and the fear of going out when there is no safety of numbers. The city just hasn't given cycling the priority that it should. A couple years ago, one activist mentioned that Paris spends more on cycling PR than Bp spends on infrastructure, PR and everything else related to cycling. I'm sure this is true.

That said, the numbers gap between CM and everyday riding is closing. The record CM (80,000) happened in spring of '08. The number of participants this past spring was around 20-30,000. Meanwhile, the number of cyclists on the streets this past summer was huge in comparison to summer '08. This is an impression -- there are no official bike counts by the city. But the difference has been very dramatic. One of my Bp friends who'd been away the past year studying abroad said he couldn't believe the difference.

The optimist inside me thinks we may be approaching the tipping point ...

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