Get on your bike in Bucharest

Newsroom 05/10/2009 | 15:36

Let us start with some hard facts. Bucharest is considered the most polluted European capital, due to the slow speed of traffic and the age of the cars, which are responsible for about 70 percent of the air toxins in the city. Every day Bucharesteans breathe in the gas released by approximately 1.5 million cars. Green spaces are few and far between as over the last 15 years over 17 million sqm of green space has disappeared. In the capital, there are about 8 sqm of green space per inhabitant, compared to the European norm of 26 sqm, according to Ana Maria Bogdan, communication manager of the MaiMultVerde Association. Now, compare it to this: in the Netherlands, about 40 percent of people on the road are cyclists and the number of bicycles surpasses the number of inhabitants – there are over 18 million bikes for a population of 16.5 million, says Bogdan. At the moment, in Bucharest there are approximately 68.5 kilometers of cycle lane which are noticeable and well marked. Problems arise when cyclists come across parked cars, pedestrians, kiosks or other constructions blocking their way. “Ideally, the bicycle lane should be on the first lane for cars, therefore leaving pavements free,” adds Bogdan. Currently, there is a workgroup made up of representatives from the Bucharest City Hall, NGOs and various institutions in order to draw up a masterplan of non-polluting alternative transport for Bucharest. “We hope that following efforts from this workgroup, the legislation in this field and the current standards will be adapted to the European ones,” says Raluca Fiser, president of the Green Revolution Association. On World Car-Free Day on September 22, more than 10,000 cyclists met in Budapest, she says. Bucharest can brag a tenth as much, as between 800-1,000 local cyclists paraded for the event here. But things are starting to move in the right direction, as more bike rental centers have been opened. “In 2005 I did a mass media monitoring project and I discovered that nobody was writing or talking about bicycles. Now, I give interviews every week. There are news, articles and information about this on a weekly basis,” says Geo Culda, president of the “Bate Saua Sa Priceapa Iapa” NGO. He also says there are already racks for bicycles at the entrance to hypermarkets and at least five large corporations have placed them in front of their headquarters. Generally, cycling fans are people over 24, who love to exercise and want to adopt a healthy lifestyle. More and more people who are pressed for time ride a bike since they prefer a viable means of transportation in the Bucharest traffic, says Mircea Florescu, owner of Assport bike store. Among the best routes that a cyclist can take without undue stress is the one from Victoriei Square on Aviatorilor Blvd. where the pavement is wide and cyclists and pedestrians can go about their business without disturbing one another, while the green space is a deterrent for illegal parking. Another option would be to go out of town. “I'd tell anyone to take a ride in Cernica forest, just 8 kilometers from Bucharest, for a breath of fresh air. You can go 40-60 kilometers into the woods or, on the contrary, have a short ride of 2-3 kilometers. You can choose between narrow and wide roads, depending on your preference or proficiency,” says Florescu.No-go areas include the cycle path on Elisabeta Blvd. and the lanes on the pavements along the Dambovita River where low-hanging tree branches could cause injury. The first cycle rental center was Cicloteque, which was opened in Bucharest in 2008 opposite the Faculty of Law. The newest one is La Pedale, a free bike-sharing system with bases in Kiseleff and Herastrau parks. There is also a center called RaitaBike on Ion Brezoianu St., close to Cismigiu Garden. Bikes can be rented from the Veloteca store on Levantica St. Just be sure you have an ID card on you, as most of these centers ask for one. It is always good to have an idea what to look for when going bike shopping but be aware that there are no hard and fast rules about what model to choose. For a commuter who uses a bike every day to go to work or school, Florescu recommends Kona Dew or Kona World Bike, which are simple and efficient. For a nature lover, suitable models would be Cube Analog Disc (more budget-friendly) or an AMS Comp (if you can afford it). “For a woman who is not in a hurry and does not want to give up wearing a skirt and looking elegant, I recommend an Ideal City Life,” he says, listing as advantages of this model its good position, user-friendliness and attractive look of the bike. “The basket in front is a very popular accessory with these models,” he says. As for the cost, the sky's the limit. “Price limits range from RON 1,400 to… how much did you pay for your apartment?” Florescu asks jokingly.

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