You don’t need to reinvent the wheel to understand that cycling is good for you. As more and more Ukrainians ride bikes to work or for pleasure, there is a growing need for reticent local authorities to provide the necessary infrastructure, but also for a broader debate on modern city life.
Populist campaigns about road safety in Ukraine have done little to change a dismal reality. Last year 4,831 road deaths were registered, according to official figures, making Ukraine Europe’s second most dangerous country after Russia. Among the dead were 295 cyclists, or 6.2 percent of all victims.
“Most road accidents happen in the countryside and on high traffic roads in cities,” said Victor Zagreba, member of the Kyiv Cyclists Association.
Despite the inherent dangers of cycling, a bike community can grow in Kyiv, said Iryna Bondarenko, the association’s head. “One in 10 citizens has a bike at home they don’t use. Nearly 30,000 Kyiv residents use bikes to get to work. We want to make our city comfortable for bike lovers, but the infrastructure remains at a low level,” Bondarenko explained.
Kyiv city administration boasts plans to build 17 bike paths and organize parking spaces. So far, there are three, all located on the left bank Darnytsia district (near Pozniaky and Kharkivska metro station). Only one is fit for use by cyclists – meaning it is properly marked and two meters wide.
But just building more bikeways is not enough. “Every Ukrainian city should find its own way to respond to its particular conditions. The challenge is not about making good cycling infrastructure only, but to apply a comprehensive cycling policy,” said Piotr Kuropatwinski, a Gdansk-based senior cycling expert at the Pomeranian Association Common Europe.
The challenge is not about making good cycling infrastructure only, but to apply a comprehensive cycling policy,â— Piotr Kuropatwinski
Gdansk currently boasts one of Poland’s largest bike path networks, but only its integration with other public transport elements – buses, trams, and city trains – makes the system functional. “If you put stress on infrastructure only, you may easily fall into the trap of car-oriented cycling infrastructure development policy,” Kuropatwinski said, pointing to Vancouver as a successful example. “[Authorities] put stress on the development of public transport systems and connections of this system with the pedestrian and cycling networks. It has become the best livable city in the Western Hemisphere, with a high quality of life,” he explained.
Kyiv urgently needs to revise the way it thinks about transport. The city’s development strategy foresees cycling to account for 10 percent of all transport needs by 2025, but is vague on details. Armin Wagner, who heads the Sustainable Mobility in Ukrainian Cities project, said there is a lot to fix. “Good cycling infrastructure depends on many components, like lower overall speeds (maximum 50 kilometers an hour in cities), narrow roads instead of wide urban highways, suitable design norms, respect of traffic safety rules and a lot of institutional support,” he said.
Bondarenko wants Ukraine to follow a Spanish model. In Sevilla, she said, people can drive into the city center by car, but have to leave within 40 minutes or else they are fined. “When the city center is free of cars, it revives. We want the same for downtown Kyiv and Podil district.”
First, however, they have to convince more citizens about the benefits of cycling. Thus, the Kyiv Cyclist’s Association is assisting in preparations of the European Mobility Week in Kyiv, Sept. 16-22, an ecological campaign promoting the use of alternative transport. “We’ll make a part of Volodymyrska and Bohdana Khmelnytskoho streets free of cars for several hours. We also aim to restrict car parking on Lva Tolstogo and Velyka Vasylkivska streets,” she added. “On Sept. 17 Munich and Prague city council representatives will read a lecture to Kyiv’s city council. Also we want to invite ladies to participate in a ‘Women in red bike parade.’”
One of Kyiv’s residents, Roman Baskov, who learned to appreciate city bike rides on Velo Day, a citywide bike festival, in May. “It feels like being in a big bike community. We started riding from European Square and finished at Lva Tolstogo Street. Surprisingly, the police helped us ride safely,” he said.
European Mobility Week events:
Sept. 16, 1 p.m. – training excursion “How to ride a bike in a high traffic city”
Sept. 20, 6.30 p.m.– evening bike excursion
Sept. 21, 10.30 a.m. – Transport seminar “Transport System of the Modern City. Planning methods”; “Auto*Mat” movie screening at Chezh centre (24 A Ivana Franka St.)
Sept. 22, 10 a.m. untill 8 p.m. – “Day without a car;” (everybody is welcome to take bikes, roller skates to enjoy free public space on Volodymyrska Street); women in red bike parade.
For more details check www.mobilityweek.org.ua
Kyiv Post staff writer Olena Goncharova can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org