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Bicycles – efficient transportation in an inefficient environment

When are there going to be cycling lanes in Sofia?

Bikers vs. drivers. It could be so much simpler: cycling lanes.

Biking along Sofia streets is an extreme sport par excellence. I myself am a fan of bike transportation, which is definitely more convenient, healthier and overall environmentally-friendly.

Unfortunately, we're far behind those European countries where biking is not only an everyday activity but has become quite fashionable and widely promoted.

In Bulgaria, you may witness all sorts of reactions – boos, cursing, gestures and so on are common companions to bikers.

San Francisco, Caen and Dijon have passed municipal regulations introducing bicycles for rent. They've invested huge amounts of money into their systems. One of the ways in which a biking system may get some compensation for its expenses is by having outdoor advertising agencies spend some of their profits on maintaining bikes and their stations.

More than 20,600 massive gray bikes may be rented for a modest fee from 750 self-service points across Paris. Instructions are provided in eight languages.

The Velib program – from velo, bicycle, and liberte, freedom – is the hottest news in Europe's efforts to reduce the number of cars in city centers and encourage people to opt for a type of transportation that doesn't harm the environment.

One can rent a bike online or at the point itself, using a credit or debit card. Then the bike can be returned at any other point. A one-day ticket costs 1 Euro, a weekly, 5, and a yearly subscription is 29 Euro.

If you use the bike for less than 30 minutes, there's no additional charge. If you ride it longer, you pay between 1 and 4 Euro per half an hour. The idea is to make sure as many bikes as possible are on the run.


Text from the video: This is what the new Paris program for renting bikes looks like. It's called Velib. There are many such points across the city. What you have to do is stick your credit card here, and then you're free to ride away. Unfortunately, the machine doesn't accept US credit cards – only European ones, with their built-in chips.

If a similar system is introduced also in Bulgaria, outbursts of gratuitous vandalism are likely and may well nip it in the bud. Of course, we must also take into consideration angry drivers who are prone to get on their car even if they have to drive to the next corner only.

Regarding this, Velizar Stoyanov, vice-mayor of Transportation and Communications at the Sofia Municipality, commented:

“It's about Bulgarian mentality. We're still keen on proving that cars are no problem to get. For 40 years, we've been prevented from freely buying them – it's like our wasted youth. Now every member of the family must own a car.

“One way to change transportation is by changing the law. We've proposed three times that the import of second-hand cars (older than 3-5 years) be prohibited. The Parliament voted against it. Now we're the only EU country with no restrictions on importing second-hand cars.

“We've collected the garbage of all of Europe – Austria, Germany, Italy, Switzerland. We've bought all of their old bangers and brought them here. We've cleaned Western Europe, and poisoned Bulgaria in the process.

“And politicians must have seen it. But there are strong lobbies who have been victorious. How can it be there is such a ban in Serbia and Romania, and there's none here? In Belgrade, which is as big as Sofia, there are 450 thousand cars, and in Sofia, 980 thousand.”

Another significant problem in opening cycling lanes parallel to high-traffic streets are the terrible traffic jams they would cause.

The main goal of this campaign is protecting the environment. Unlike cars, bikes do not require a large parking lot or constant watch; they do not pollute the air, nor do they (like horse transport) require barley or soil the streets.

The Dutch Government has decided to increase the monthly compensations of those officials who use bikes to reach their offices. All officials who use public transportation are entitled to free transport permits to their offices and back. Those who use their personal car or bicycle have so far been entitled to a compensation of 5 Eurocents per kilometer. Now the maximum monthly compensation for drivers remains 45 Euro, whereas bikers can get as much as 282.

For the cycling infrastructure in Sofia, 5 rays have been proposed. Softproekt plan on constructing cycling lanes in Mladost, Lyulin, the eastern and western parts of Sofia.

In reality, the lanes cannot be constructed, although they are included in the plans for this year. The project is listed under the yearly budget. The Sofia Municipality has pledged 5 million leva for cycling and pedestrian infrastructure.

Is this sum going to be used in a timely, rational and relevant fashion?

Officials at the Sofia Municipality have promised that two cycling alleys will be opened by the end of October. Two calls for tenders have been held. One was completed successfully, and on 17-18 August, the construction of the first cycling lane is going to begin. The lane will pass along Evlogi Georgiev Boul. and be completed as early as September.

The second call is for a lane to pass along Tsar Boris III Boul. - from the Shipka bus station to the Ruski Pametnik monument.

“Unfortunately, we had to cancel the bidding procedure, as all the bids were several times higher than our allocated budget. We'll repeat the procedure,” Mr Stoilov explained. “I believe the bids have been overpriced, unlike the Evlogi Georgiev lane. So there's some chance to keep my promise for the two lanes; however, one will open in August, and the other, in September or October. But they will be done, both of them.

“Unfortunately, the infrastructure and the number of cars in our city are such that designating a cycling lane within the boundaries of the roads themselves represents a considerable health and safety risk. I'd rather not resolve the issue in this way.

“Surrounding the lanes by sticks or road marking is not enough of a guarantee. And I wouldn't want to have accidents weighing on my conscience. God forbid something would happen to a biker!”

The project also envisions setting up frame constructions where the bikes can be left. These will be placed in 7 to 10 spots across Sofia. Some organizations, including informal associations, have already submitted requests to create such bike stands at their own expense.

Officials at the Sofia Municipality are looking for the proper way to respond, as they obey the Charity Act very strictly. They've assured us that bike stands will be ready before the lanes are officially opened.

Bulgarian bikers may be interested to know that each last Friday of the month, there are spontaneous bike processions for clean and safe city environment. They start at 18:30, at the Ariana lake.

Everyone may take part in them, even people who rarely ride. You only need a bike and some enthusiasm. By getting involved, you remind everyone that “We do not get in the way of traffic, we are traffic!”