Ukrainians are switching to bicycles, pushing local authorities to develop the country’s infrastructure
The ‘Shevchenko’ part in downtown Kyiv has colourful iron stands that kids just love. In fact, the place is one of the very few bicycle parking lots in town. Surprisingly, this one hosts not a single bicycle most of the time. Rough estimates are that people in Kyiv own nearly 300,000 bicycles. However, they have a hard time riding a bicycle from where they live to the city centre. As a result, the 20-piece parking lot is almost always empty.
Cyclists in Ukrainian cities have two main options: risk their lives as they ride on the roads or break traffic rules and take the pavements. The third option is to ride their iron horse solely in parks or the suburbs. Most mayors prefer to think of bicycles as just part of a healthy life or hobby, rather than as a fully-fledged means of transport. Some cities though have already planned, or embarked on, developing bicycle infrastructure.
THE VERY FIRST STEPS
Lviv has been the leader in terms of bicycle infrastructure so far. “Bicycle lanes are constantly emerging all over the town,” says Oleh Shmid, Advisor to the Mayor on the issue of Bicycle Infrastructure and a keen cyclist himself. “Lviv can park at least two hundred bicycles now.”
Developing bicycle infrastructure in Lviv is a promising trend and the city is perfectly suited to it. “We’re doing everything methodically,” Mr. Shmid says. “We have a program to set up 268km of lanes within the next nine years and a separate bicycle network scheme has already been approved. The project will cost us UAH 59mn.” Currently, the Lviv administration is planning to design a large circle around historical heart of the city that will be built next year.
Mr. Shmid quotes a survey that found that 28% of Lviv’s citizens own bikes, while 83% support the development of bicycle lanes around the town. Moreover, the sale of bicycles nearly doubles every year in the city.
Zaporizhzhia, Vinnytsia and Kyiv also have new separate lanes, while Yevpatoria (Crimea), Cherkasy and Dolyna (Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast) are planning to build ones.
Kyiv is, however, putting lanes in quite slowly. The first two are at Zdolbunivska street and on Bazhana Prospect. “Dniprovska Naberezhna has only a white line but no low curbs. It’s impossible to ride a bicycle there,” laments Iryna Bondarenko, President of the Kyiv Association of cyclists, about other projects of the city administration. “The cycle lane at Rusanivska Naberezhna crosses the exit paths from the park in many places.”
The program to improve cycle lanes was approved in 2009. It entails the construction of 17 routes, each 160 km long. Sadly, though, the construction is taking quite a while.
At this point, lanes are being laid on the streets which are under reconstruction. The city administration has instructed shopping malls to build parking lots for bicycles next to the buildings too. Biltek Ltd. has recently won a tender from Kyiv Road Service worth UAH 1mn to design five lanes.
In Iryna’s opinion the brand new cycle on Prospect Bazhana is next to perfect, though it does have a few flaws: The Ukrainian Week found a dozen high curbs there that do not make for what we could call easy riding. The lane twists badly at one point and has only a few white marks along its length. Therefore, pedestrians keep walking on the lane as they do not understand what it is for. Therefore a cyclist can hardly ride the lane at high speed. He will have to slow down at the very first curb or will rush round the twist straight into a passer-by. But the biggest question is where to go after the lane ends.
Other than average cyclists, some privately-owned companies are also interested in infrastructure development. They encourage their employees to pedal to work, and not always to sell their own bikes. “We not only produce medicines, but care about people’s health,” Iryna Sytnykova, an employee at a Kyiv-based pharmaceutical company, explains. “We want people to be healthy and take to sports. We exercise every week and are now riding between 50-70 kilometers training for the Kyiv-Lviv tour in September.”
A Kyiv-based transnational IT company has an 80-piece bicycle parking lot next to its office. It is always filled with bicycles and every floor of the office has a shower cabin for those who arrive in need. “We do our best to make it comfortable for our staff to take an alternative transport to work,” Eleonora Fedoriy, an employee, says. Kyiv IT specialists were encouraged to use bicycles after talking to their colleagues abroad and the company’s management supported the idea. “The initiative has come from us, not the US headquarters,” Eleonora claims. “We work with leading international companies and often talk to their staff about these issues. A healthy life style and environment protection are now global trends.”
However, cyclists can hardly feel safe riding into town in Ukraine. “A security guy did not allow me to leave my bicycle in front of the Mayor’s Hall,” Iryna Bondarenko said. “You can park a car there, but not a bike. Another guard at the WWII Museum said he would cut our tires if we didn’t take our bikes away. We talked to the museum director and he agreed to arrange a bicycle parking lot but asked us to find a sponsor for it, so that is what we’re doing now.”
Some Ukrainian cities are getting advice on bicycle infrastructure development from the German Association of International Cooperation (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit – GIZ). “Ukrainian standards of lane construction are obsolete today,” says Svitlana Nazar, coordinator of Sustainable Mobility in the Cities of Ukraine. “Under the current requirements they would take huge street and road space and modern compact cities cannot afford that. Hence the initiative to set up a working group at the Ministry of Regional Construction in order to update and adjust Ukrainian standards to Western European criteria.”
In reality, though, bicycle infrastructure development is hampered by people’s mindset, not just legal requirements. “Ukraine is not implementing the sustainable mobility principle that has been the basis for transport development in Europe for nearly ten years now,” Ms. Bondarenko claims. “Nobody here realizes a rule which was implemented in the West a long time ago: the more roads, the more cars.” Under the Strategy of Kyiv Development by 2025 submitted for discussion, roads are supposed to cover space three times larger than they cover now. This, in turn, will lead to a growing number of cars that will once again fill the roads at some point. This is not the way out of this sort of transport collapse.
“The Mayor of London gave Kate Middleton and Prince William a tandem as their wedding gift,” Svitala Nazar notes. “London is one city which is really implementing the sustainable mobility policy.”
ACCIDENTS IN UKRAINE THIS YEAR:
1,494 car accidents involving cyclists.
153 people died and
1,071 were injured.
Source: Traffic and Automated Systems Safety Center at the Ministry of Internal Affairs
Sustainable mobility is a way of moving around the town using any form of public transport, riding a bicycle or walking. The term comes from the sustainable growth notion that means meeting the needs of modern people without exhausting resources for fulfilling the needs of future generations.
Sustainable mobility principles
• Restricted traffic of private cars (higher parking rates and gasoline prices, cars banned from entering the city centre, paid city entrance for cars, high fines for violations of parking rules and so on)
•More intense use of alternative transport means, i.e. encouraging people to use public transport, ride bicycles or walk