7 thousand kilometres on a bamboo tandem bike to promote cycling
How did you come up with the idea of cycling through 13 countries to improve their bike networks?
Both me and Ewa have worked as city planners and we were always aware that the biggest challenge to living a eco-friendly life is mobility: in fact, one third of our carbon dioxide emission comes from transportation. Moreover, cars are the least efficient means of transport as they take up the most space and in the daily commute, on average, they are used by one person alone for less than 5 kilometres. Related to the gross-domestic product, Eastern Europ
ean cities show the highest rates of motorization, a problem that is made worse by the fact that no cycling network exists in them. We have always wanted to contribute to the creation of a better planet and one day we looked at each other and said: let’s cycle to these countries to see what these countries are doing to counterbalance the effect cars have and offer them an alternative by promoting cycling.
How did you get down to the organisation of the project?
We decided to construct our own bike, a bamboo tandem. For us, bamboo is the symbol of eco-consciousness and the tandem made our task easier as we could work in harmony, talk on the way and take brakes together. We found a bamboo bike making workshop in Vienna and went there every week before our trip to perfect our bike: we would do everything ourselves from the carving of the wood to the mounting of the frame. However, the more difficult part of the preparations was reaching out to the decision makers whom we wanted to target with our initiative.
What were your impressions in the different cities?
In Easter Europe, cars are clearly thought of as status symbols and that’s why people are reluctant to let go of them. Moreover, the necessary infrastructure is still lacking in a lot of places. Hungary and Poland are a bit better in this respect, but not everywhere. It is great that one can cycle all along the Danube, but the signs are often misleading or missing altogether. Besides, despite the many bikers in the city, Budapest is not bike friendly at all and I would say it is quite dangerous to cycle in the centre as buses are passing really close to you and cycle lanes often stop without warning.
How could you contribute to the improvement of the situation?
We aimed to reach out to as many stakeholders as possible to campaign for cycling, raise awareness and give impulses. All in all, we managed to talk to 30 mayors of different cities from whom we always asked two questions: how they get people on bikes and what their vision for cycling is for the future.
It soon became obvious that a clear vision is often missing. Therefore, we planted some ideas in their heads and argued that within 10 years, all of Europe would have to switch to sustainable transport, so why not do the shift now? Where they contended that the terrain is too hilly for bikes, we told them about e-bikes and where they complacently pointed to their achievements of operating a city bike system, we called their attention to the fact that people will not bike unless the roads are suitable for it. We tried to bind in the media as well by telling them about our ideas and what the respective mayors were saying.
Last, but not least, we organised many events for people to make them realise the importance of the transition to bikes. We organised free rides on our bamboo tandem, which people were always really curious about and the screening of the film Bikes vs Cars in cooperation with the Swedish Embassy.
Have you found any good practises that could be adopted by other cities?
Of course. In Cluj, we loved the idea of the cargo bike carrier, promoted by Balázs Halmen and his team, which is a perfect alternative for a car when having to carry bags after shopping, taking kids to the kindergarten and delivering packages. We found a similar initiative in Lublin, Poland, where people could rent cargo bikes from their local library using their library cards. Another useful initiative, called the bike kitchen, was introduced in Grodno, Belarus, which provides the space and tools for people to come and fix their bikes for free.
What are your plans for the future?
We would love to continue with our campaign and most importantly, we would like to create links amongst people who could support each other. We would like to initiate serious discussion amongst activists and stakeholders and recommend good solutions for cities that increase the quality of life as well as connect the whole of Europe without borders in order not to repeat mistakes and be better and more eco-friendly in whatever they are doing. We would be interested in further extending our project and doing a similar trip through Britain, but at the moment we are focusing on applying for some European Union grants to help develop Eastern Europe’s cycling network.