Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Time for tights

After a long-lasting wonderful summer ...

... I'm now ready for a colorful fall.

Let's cycle into the golden sunset together!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Cyclists' Turku

Hi everyone! My name is Sonja and I'm a 4th year geography student in the University of Turku. I am a regular cyclist, not for fun, statement or sport, but simply for transportation. Safe cycling should be everybody's right because it is efficient, environmentally friendly and good for you!

I met anna in Budapest Mobility Week Workshop. She was one of my roommates, and I greatly enjoyed her company and ideas. She asked me to write something on her blog, so if you are interested, I'll be writing here every now and then. Here's a short introduction to my city:

Turku is a city of 175'000 people (300'000 at the agglomeration) located at the south western coast of Finland. I have lived there for 6 and a half years, and almost always used cycling as my primary means of transportation. In 1997 11.5 % of all trips were made by bike and half by car, the rest by public transit and walking. There is a separated bike lane network centered at the city center so it is easily accessible by bike. Most of cultural, economical and educational activities also take place at the center, so it is a city with an active core, although suburbanization is an increasing trend. There is also a rather functional market square-centered public transportation system, but you are not allowed to take your bike into the buses. There are lots of bike racks everywhere in the city. 45% of households don't own a car, but most of these households are singles living on their own, like me :). Most of us go around by bike, bus or walking.

The market square

I'm happy to say, that Turku has a good reputation as a cyclist friendly city. There are many functional bike lanes, and most of the motorists respect cyclists and bike lanes. Cycling is rather safe, and in the last 20 years the share and amount of bike accidents has decreased. Also, for bike tourists Turku is a nice base town. There are ring roads that leave from Turku or nearby towns to the Archipelago of Turku, which is a famous holiday destination for cyclists.

My friend Heidi Heinonen riding Föri, a light traffic ferry, accross the river with our bikes

However, despite of the great plans of the city to build new bike lanes and promote cycling, nothing new is happening. The city fathers don't seem to care too much about developing the city light traffic. There are issues with the accessibility of some bike lanes and the safety of some crossroads. Also, increasing area of the city is getting car dependent because of suburbanization. Some in the neighboring municipalities are not easily accessible by public transit and are too far to cycle from. The system in Turku is not as good as e.g. in Netherlands, but it is better than in Budapest, Hungary, or Thunder Bay, Canada.

Thank you for your interest and thanks for the opportunity, anna!

P.S. If you have something specific that you want to hear about, please let me know.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Are you a good bike rider?

Two days ago I saw on TV a new iniative from both the Catalan Traffic Department and the local government, mainly addressed to kids, which aims at teaching them the rules for cycling in different environments.

The initiative has the shape of a website called "Bicicla't" (Bicycle yourself) , which is an invented verb that would mean -as far as I understand- "teach yourself to cycle". And one of the best ways to teach oneself to cycle is not really being aware that you are learning but actually doing so. For children, the best way to learn is undoubtably by playing.

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 Copenhagenize.com 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

Monday, September 21, 2009

Disability and radical pedestrians

Budapest has one big problem that pedestrians and public transport users have to face, namely underpasses. Personally I don't like to go underground. It's always kind of dark and dirty there, and I loose my orientation. In Budapest there is also the other issue of mobility for disabled people. Although they are trying to improve according to European Standards, there are still a large amount of obstacles on the streets. As in every proper car centric society, it's the pedestrians that have to go underground and not the cars. And it's almost always done by stairs (although apparently existent I haven't seen any elevators or escalators myself). The stairs don't have bright lines for partially sighted people and there are no tracks for wheelchairs or bicycles.

Underpasses with only stairs: bikes have to be carried, people in wheelchairs or with buggies are simply stuck

However, these things are made visible to the public. And there are also people who protest against the fact that on certain junctions there are no crosswalks but only underpasses. At the Mobility Week Workshop we took part in a flashmob at Blaha Lujza square last Wednesday. Some activists painted there own pedestrians lights and gave green whenever the according parallel car lanes had green. Since there was no crosswalk/zebra crossing painted on the streets they used different posters with animals and zebras painted on them to demonstrate their ideas. I quite enjoyed that creative way of approaching these problems. It certainly increases awareness. The flashmob was a huge success. A lot of people used the opportunity to cross the streets on the surface (and not underground) safely in big crowds. It was a pleasure to see human mobility.

People crossing at Blaha Lujza square on the artificial zebra crossing

Friday, September 18, 2009

First (and second) time cycling in Budapest

As I already mentioned last week, I'm currently attending a Mobility Week Workshop in Budapest, Hungary. It's a meeting of 30 young Europeans from basically 6 different countries (Austria, Czech Republic, Finland, Italy, Hungary, Spain). After exploring the city center and area around the youth hostel Casa de la Musica, we will set different goals and work on how this area could be improved mobility-wise.

My bike impatiently waits for our departure at Wien Südbahnhof

I. (another girl from Vienna) and myself brought our own bikes along. Unfortunately, this is unnecessarily complicated since bike transport is only possible on the slow regional trains. Apart from the longer traveling time (4 rather than 3 hours) this also includes also other disadvantages for cyclists. For example, we had to change trains twice and always drag all our luggage and the bikes up and down the stairs at the stations (no elevators, not even rails on the stairs for wheelchairs – how do disabled people manage that?). Apart from that we didn't arrive at the main station Keleti in Pest but further outside at the Deli station in Buda.

I. at Györ station: changing trains means draging bikes and luggage up and down the stairs

Such things really annoy me. I don't understand why they discourage people to bring along bikes on long distance journeys. I think the EU should really try to work towards a excellent train network that includes possibilities for bike transport. Nowadays it's almost impossible to bring bikes (except folding bikes) on long-distant trains and the situation actually gets worse and worse, at least in and around Austria after the Austrian railway network ÖBB introduced their new Railjet trains that simply don't transport bikes. Such things just make me sad.

So, after all, how is cycling in Budapest? Before we left, we heard all kinds of stories basically saying that cycling in Budapest is very dangerous and that car drivers are aggressive. I must say that I didn't have that impression at all. Of course, there is a lot of car traffic. The roads and lanes are wide and the motorists get priority over everybody else. But cycling in traffic is not so bad. Car drivers leave a lot of space to the side when overtaking and nobody ever honked at us. With all our luggage (both of us had a 50l backpack and a small one) we found our way to the hostel easily and safely. We only had a problem once after we got on a bike path as this one actually lead us away from the Erzsébet bridge rather than onto it. So we ended up carrying our bikes up and down stairs (again) and crossed the Danube on the sidewalk of the bridge. Well, the view was great and we took some nice pictures :-). Though our first cycling trip in Budapest was actually quite pleasant.

Night view from Erzsébet bridge to Buda, Danube and Pest

The next day we cycled through Budapest on rented bikes from Budapestbike in the whole group of 30 people. That way we could see some of the bicycle infrastructure in the city. There is not much and of course there are many improvements that could be made. Compared to Vienna, however, I quite enjoyed that the bike lanes on the road are so wide here and even have an empty space between the parked cars (absolutely necessary and should be standard anyhow, but Viennese planners apparently don't believe in "dooring"). I didn't like the segregated two-way bike paths so much as they are quite narrow and not so visible from the car lanes (always problems with cars turning right that only see cyclists at the last moment). Still, I liked their clear and straight design and that they had a center line. At some places the surface was quite rough though. Very often the bike lanes are painted red at junctions, but the color already faded away.

Cycling in Budapest: cycling in traffic, on a bike lane and a two-way bike path

What I really miss here are one way streets with contraflow cycling traffic. That is something that works very well in Vienna and that really safes me a lot of time in everyday life. They do try to implement such things here too. As mentioned in one of the talks, they also have one advanced stop lane for cyclists (meaning that cyclists can stop in front of the first row of cars at traffic lights, also referred to as 'bike box') and so-called suggested cycle lanes (simply bike pictograms on the road with no real bike infrastructure – I reckon that they are much more efficient than small signs beside the road saying that this is a bike route, as these are not really seen by car drivers).

Concerning bike infrastructure (and generally traffic and spatial planning), Budapest still has a long way to go, but cycling is possible and safe if one is cautious. Cycling, however, is certainly not pleasant here. Still, cyclists in Budapest already represent 3-5% of the modal split which is quite similar to Vienna (as far as I know we have 5% cyclists, but already 8% in the “summer months”), and the numbers are continuously increasing.

More about other aspects of traffic in Budapest and a flashmob by “radical pedestrians” at the Blaha Lujza square in the next post. Stay tuned.

Information of the whole idea and activities in the Mobility Week Workshop on the official website: mobilityweekbudapest.eu. Have a look at the project diary.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Bicycle Film Festival in town

Although I'm not, the Bicycle Film Festival is again in Vienna. I went there last year for a session of short movies -- so-called "urban bike shorts" -- and some of the excellent fun program in the afternoons (like Tall Bike Jousting, Alleycat etc.). For more information on the program in Vienna this year visit the official homepage. It takes place at the Urania cinema from September 17 - 20.

The Bicycle Film Festival is an international film festival organized by Brendt Barbur after he had been hit by a bus in New York. Now in its ninth year the festival is held in 39 cities worldwide. 250.000 people are expected to attend this year. The description on their webpage is as follows:
"The Bicycle Film Festival celebrates the bicycle in all forms and styles. If you can name it - Tall Bike Jousting, Track Bikes, BMX, Alleycats, Critical Mass, Bike Polo, Road Cycling, Mountain Biking Recumbents - we've probably either ridden or screened it. What better way to celebrate these lifestyles than through art, film, music and performance?"
Find out on bicyclefilmfestival.com when it is close to your location.

For an idea of what kind of movies to expect see "What's a girl to do" (link to YouTube), "There's a flower in my pedal" (link to an earlier post) or simply watch the 2009 trailer and follow the suggestions on YouTube:

Saturday, September 12, 2009

How to go shopping by bike and what would make it more convenient

While most people agree that some kind of shopping is possible by bike, not everybody wants to do all shopping by bike. I also don't, to be honest. I transport my groceries (including party supply) by bike. I do my clothes and shoe shopping by bike, and I even transport electrical equipment by bike (e.g., computers, printers, espresso machines, dishes).

But what about refrigerators and closets, someone might ask. Well, small furniture I transport by bike, medium pieces by public transport (taxi or renting a car is also an option if the latter isn't available) and for big stuff I hire a professional transport company anyhow as this is the most convenient and cheapest way to do. Well, there are not many people who move house by car and I rather avoid such experiences after having it done myself.

Not enough transport capacities on a bike?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What's up in Hungary?

Although Hungary is Austria's neighboring country and partner in crime in historical terms (I'm sure you heard about the k.u.k. monarchy), I must admit that I have not been there very often. I remember a rather long visit to Budapest in the early 90s, but apart from that I have only passed trough it a couple of times on my way to the Balkans.

But finally I will pay Hungary a proper visit again. It's all due to the Mobility Week launched in Budapest from 16th to 23rd of September 2009, organized by the Hungarian Cyclists' Club. There will be an international workshop on urban mobility and cityscapes. If you're interested, read more about it on their homepage or at the IG Fahrrad homepage (in German). The project description says:
"The objective of the project is to go over the common and alternative forms of city-scale public and individual means of transport and urban land use along with their ability to remodel the cityscape in negative as well as positive ways. We would like to show directly and clearly, that the direction of these future changes strongly depends on our present attitudes."
Although it was a bit unclear in the beginning, I hope now that I can attend all week, meet nice people and have interesting discussions. Greg Spencer from the Cycling Solution Blog already told me that he will be there and give a talk on the 16th. And seemingly Mikael Colville-Andersen from Copenhagenize.com und Copenhagen Cycle Chic should be there too.

Apart from that, Greg also informed me about the problems they have with the City Hall concerning the Margit bridge renovation in Budapest. Apparently, the orginal costs of 47 Mio. € increased to 77 Mio. €, why they now want to delete a bike path from the project. However, the EU subsides the project with 22 Mio. € including the bike path and there will hopefully be some protests coming from that side now. For more details see Greg's post.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Where there is light, there is shadow.

The title is a literal translation of a German saying. But it's not about big words this time. It just came to my mind when I was cycling in the morning sun on the weekend. Inspired by Filigree's post, I took a picture of myself -- well, my shadow -- too ;-).

Very cool freehand cycling ...

... and an older pic from above

I will try to get some better shots in the future. However, I do recommend to take such pictures while cycling on a quiet bike path and not in the middle of the rush hour on a busy road ;-).

Friday, September 4, 2009

The pure joy of cycling at night

Due to a conference I was pretty busy this week and I always arrived home late at night. That made me appreciate cycling at night again. I really enjoy it!


Well, many reasons:
  • it's very calm and peaceful
  • there's not much traffic
  • the cars that are around overtake with a great distance to the side
  • and they see me (during the day, for example, I'm often overlooked when I approach a junction from a one-way street that is open for cyclists in both directions)
  • cycling at night is safe, much safer than using public transport or walking
  • and it's pretty fast too (as most traffic lights are switched off)
Well, it's simply fun. And apparently Anna from BCN thinks so too.

What do you like (or not like) about cycling at night? Any blissful experiences that you want to share?

Bicycle parking at night

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Tom Turbo -- the bicycle with the 111 tricks

Most kids in Austria know Tom Turbo very well. Tom Turbo is a kind of a bicycle, but not an ordinary one. He's a bicycle with a face, that can think, talk and drive around on it's own. But that's not the only thing he does. He observes, analyzes and solves crimes. He's a bicycle detective.

Tom Turbo is an invention by Thomas Brezina, one of Austrians most famous authors for children's books. There are dozens of adventures of the Knickerbocker gang that I have read when I was a kid. And most of these stories are actually known worldwide as his books have been translated into dozens of languages and even been picturized.

The wonder bicycle Tom Turbo is more interesting for younger kids. I remember that the books contain a lot of colorful pictures and gadgets. But it's not just the books. Since 1993 we even have a TV series starring Tom (Turbo) and Tom (Thomas Brezina) where they investigate different cases.

I think Tom Turbo is such a cool invention. It is obvious that a bicycle is the most suitable mode of transport for children as it brings them wherever they want to – independently of adults, and fast too. Or could you imagine kids to go through adventures while they have to be driven around by their parents?

Although I grew up with KITT in Knight Rider, I do prefer Tom Turbo ;-). Watch him in action if you like: