Alternatives to individual car transport have yet to be a priority for urban development. Bicycles are one of them. Bike lanes will be increased and improved. But the big question is how? It’s a tough one for any city, especially the poorer and unorganized ones. On a European scale, Varna is just such a city. There’s hardly a resident or ruler who doesn’t want more bike lanes in the maritime capital – they already serve the trolleys. However, the process is painful.
The main difficulty is objective – transport arteries are not designed to accommodate cycle lanes. Varna got its modern look with industrialisation shortly after the middle of the last century, when the future was envisioned through an influx of people, construction of buildings, more cars and development of public transport. No one ever imagined that 70 years later, only public transport would remain as a necessity, and that unloading people, blocks and cars would be a priority. That’s why today (not only in Varna, not only in Bulgaria) the fitting in of bike lanes is like with grandpa’s glove – there’s just nowhere, it’s always at the expense of pedestrians or cars. Buildings also get in the way. Even harder is connecting the lanes themselves – no one ever thought that crossings for bikes would be needed, or at least that they would be put next to cars under separate rules.
This whole state of affairs is very clear from one particular example. The completely new part of Blvd. “Vasil Levski”, for which land has been expropriated, offers space for bike lanes, where they do not harm anyone (with some remarks on the construction, which we will discuss below). On arteries that are not new, the only hope is that the erstwhile planners have left some greenery alongside them, or just space in which you can “breathe” from buildings and traffic and – lanes are now being put through them – not quite right, but where else?
Things are complicated. Complexity makes implementation expensive and difficult. But despite this, it is clear that there is no alternative – the development of the cycling movement will be a priority for any government in the future. The urban environment is what it is – there will have to be more and better bike lanes in its midst. And exactly how that will happen is an urgent task. Hopefully it will be solved by, to put it without irony, excellent, progressive people – politicians and civil society.
STRATEGY, CONSENSUS, PRIORITY
Looking for basic ideas, we asked several cyclists in Varna what should be done as a priority on or in relation to the urban cycle network. The issues, it is clear, are many – but what is the most important. We got very interesting answers.
Zdravko Vassilev, Ustrem cycling club: “The most important thing is to create a master plan for the cycling movement in Varna, developed by experts, based on their scientific analyses. Everything else is piecemeal, populist, with little sense – as it has been done so far. Such a plan was promised, a few years ago even a budget was allocated – nothing! It is not for me, another, or a third cyclist to say where to have lanes, what lanes, etc. It should be architects, surveyors, engineers and other professionals studying the traffic in the city, its problems, current and potential risks, opportunities etc – producing the plan in question. Years ago, there was even talk of its cost – BGN 40 000-50 000. Even if it is double now, money is nothing for a city like Varna. The plan – it should be talked about, even though even people in the cycling community are not ripe for the basic need for it.”
Stanislav Stylyanov: “Bike lanes can hardly be added to the existing infrastructure, mainly due to the lack of sufficient space. For me, the main problem is rooted in the misunderstanding and lack of tolerance between cyclists and drivers. I believe that if there is mutual respect and awareness, cycling in the city is quite possible on the existing infrastructure. Unfortunately, most cyclists approach with reckless disregard, and motorists with dislike for “intruders” on the roadway. Inclusiveness and responsibility towards the interests and rights of every road user is needed and this is the role of the authorities – through various means and approaches to educate and create social norms. Otherwise, yes – it is imperative that any new infrastructure should include cycle lanes; but I mean really new, not a redevelopment of an old one.”
Bogdan Dimitrov: “Whatever is said, it is always about money. It’s also about rights, responsibilities. The fact is that there is a lack of space on transport arteries, bicycles fit at the expense of pedestrians or drivers. Accordingly, there are malcontents. Therefore, to do anything, at least three important steps are needed. First, there must be a government, local or central, that, regardless of discontent, considers the bicycle movement a priority – and develops it, albeit at the inconvenience of other participants – taking responsibility for its decisions.
The Prime Minister or the Mayor just comes out and says, “This is the way it’s going to be because it has to be! I decided it!” Secondly, the relevant measures, based on the priority, should be backed up with a solid budget – for planners, expropriations if necessary, etc. Thirdly, this whole issue should be worked on with adolescents so that when they become adults they will not consider the car more important than the bicycle.”
ON THE BIKE – WITH A MAGNIFYING GLASS
In the clear knowledge that the problems are many, the solutions debatable, and we may be wrong about some things, here are some specific imperfections on current routes. They are subject to change, they need to be talked about. It is like getting on the bike, wearing a magnifying glass. We see that and based on that we propose:
– In places around town, connecting bike lanes is not that difficult. For example, probably the best route in the city – along Ave. “Vasil Levski”, is crying to be connected with its neighbor – the alley surrounding the “Chaika” district. But it’s not, the options are underpasses or pushing the crosswalks. Or it could just be a hundred metres of car lane length at the Javor stop junction (directly) added to the cycle lane via crossing rules. Or further down – at the Cherno More stadium.- Buildings or vegetation obstruct crossing visibility.
The problem, of course, is not just about cyclists. With vegetation it can be solved, as long as care is taken. With already built buildings – no (mirrors would still be helpful). The care about buildings should mainly concern the unbuilt ones – it’s absurd to be meters away from intersections, eliminating visibility to the side.
There are shrubs in the middle of alleys in quite a few places. Right now, for example – in front of the RHI. They don’t obstruct visibility, they just narrow the route. If cyclists are crossing, one is bound to disturb pedestrians.
– Buildings, shacks, objects of all kinds… if not in the middle of the lanes themselves, there are right next to them. The cyclist can directly run into them. This is the situation on Slivnitsa near the Technical Schools, for example.
– Lighting. Much more is needed.
– Good pavement. On the lanes in most cases is good. But near it – ruin. The photo below the text, for example, shows an underpass near “Javor”. Walking through such a cobblestone is not only uncomfortable, but also humiliating – whether pedaling or with your feet. This problem, of course, most directly relates to the wretched urban environment.
– The very first alley in the city, the so-called Kirov Alley (built in the time of Kiril Yordanov), is so bent in a certain section that it has to be rebuilt. If anyone doesn’t believe it, have another look at the lead photo to the article.
– The “unicum” alley is currently the small track along ul. “Dr. Zhelezkova” – it starts from the intersection of the stadium “Cherno More” and ends after a hundred meters – it connects no one, serves no one. It is clear that one day, when lanes are made and around, it will be connected, it will make sense. And it was built during the general reconstruction of the area – it is understandable to do it right now, when so and so had excavators. It’s just that the processes of linking have been delayed for decades. That’s why it should be thought about – when something like this is done preventively, there should at least be some temporary paths in the vicinity – so that the cyclist doesn’t go down after the hundred meters.
– It is not a good option to have the bike lanes within the asphalt, separated simply by paint (as in sections of the new part of Vasil Levski). Such a layout creates insecurity in cyclists and drivers, no one is safe. Going forward, design should keep in mind that the greatest safety is obtained with lanes completely separated from motor traffic.
– Whatever we say, or even keep quiet, it is clear – public transport must be bicycle friendly. The news in this direction is bad, because the new buses are already on the streets, and they are not adapted. Let’s hope the newer ones, years from now, change things!
THE MAD BE ALIVE
In capitalism, demand determines supply. That is, one would assume that given enough cyclists, the rulers would offer solutions for them. Another theory, more socialist, comes to the rescue with the same result – that quantitative accumulations lead to qualitative changes.
Therefore, the topic of the cycling movement in Varna cannot pass by an idea that could cause change. It is the one of Varna’s Teodosi Byalkov, with whom in an article we recently told you about an experiment on the Asparuhov Bridge (link…). The idea is called “Discover the Bike” – a platform for renting and hiring bicycles. Quite often people have a spare bike in their basement – why not rent it out for an hour, for example? Others haven’t bought one, and sometimes they feel like riding; or they’re just not from Varna, they haven’t brought theirs home – why not rent? On the electronic platform they can all make wishes, leave their addresses, pay – and quite realistically ride a bike. The idea of Teodosi Byalkov is still in the process of development, looking for sponsors. But we should wish it success, because it is initiatives like this, beautiful follies, that change things.
In 2007, a nice and convenient bicycle lane was opened in Razgrad from the city centre to the beautiful area “Pchelina”. Since then, the unsuspected has happened – hundreds of Razgrad residents, including whole families, visit the area on bicycles. They rest, walk, eat… and then return with their bikes. Seeing the meaning of what has been built, the municipality last year allocated 230 000 BGN of budget funds for the renovation of the 5.5-kilometer bike path.
The same, by the way, happened in Varna with the advent of bike lanes. Despite the imperfections, thousands of Varna residents got out of their cars in the blink of an eye, making public transport lighter. They cycle for work, for errands, for pleasure… This is the point, there is nothing else.