Bicycle Traffic and Public Administration: A curving path to an unknown destination

This spring, the massive use of bicycles as a vehicle on the streets of Podgorica seems like an achievable goal. In addition to all warnings – that the citizens of the Capital are too lazy, that the car for them is indispensable status symbol, that the traffic conditions are not favorable for cycling – the situation on the cycling routes indicates the increasing number of citizens from Podgorica who decided to use cycling, the most efficient way to go through the city in which the distance between distant urban districts is not more than 10km. To what extent does the public administration support this process, and how can this support be more meaningful?

In order for citizens to start looking on bicycles as an acceptable and affordable for city transportation, it is necessary to provide infrastructure, ensure compliance with traffic rules, work hard on the education of all participants in the traffic, and constantly finding new ways to encourage new users of bicycles. So far, these processes in Podgorica only begun. Now we have a cycling infrastructure that was planned quickly without the systematic public participation. As a result, there are numerous uneven and unsafe sections on trails, narrow sidewalks, confusing areas in which signaling merges with bus and taxi sings, set directions of movement that increase the number of potential conflict points with other road users, and bicycle trails that serve as a illegal parking for cars. The inability of the competent services to free new cycling space of the obstacles in the form of stopped and parked vehicles indicates that the systemic problems – poor legislation, insufficient capacity, unclear procedures, inconsistent penal policy – make it difficult to establish and respect the rules that should apply to all traffic participants. The results are unsafe streets, but also the reduced effectiveness of educational campaigns: how should we learn about different and better ways to move around the city, if system support in the form of implementation of existing rules is missing? Each step in this process is, therefore, conditioned by the previous one, and so the improvements have to be systemic and comprehensive, in order to be effective and long-term.

Photo: Sonja Dragović

Let’s take an example of building bicycle infrastructure in Podgorica. It would be wrong to say that the effort which has, over the past years, bounded the space for bicycle users on the streets of Podgorica, did not produce a result: the separate paths, with all the flaws in the planning and realization of the works, made the movement safer. In addition, the marked area meant a welcome for bicycles, which should be introduced into traffic flows as a legitimate and equal vehicle. The minimum expected result – more cyclists on the road – is obviously accomplished. However, we do not know exactly how big this increase is. We also do not know which obstacles in traffic are seen by potential cyclists and cyclists who yet do not dare to give a chance to a new vehicle; we do not know which part of these new rides on bicycle serve for entertainment and recreation, and which actually replaces the car on the way to work or school; finally, we do not know which percentage of citizens of Podgorica regularly use the bicycle as a vehicle. Without this data, we tap in the dark, not being able to plan improvements of the existing measures if we do not know the effect of those already implemented.

In the official statistics, however, there is still no detailed report that would allow insight into this topic, nor it is known when and whether such report would be made. Therefore, it cannot be a surprise if the activities of public administration, designed with the aim of promoting cycling and improving the traffic situation, are unspecified and unconnected. This is an expected consequence of planning without thorough problem definition, without regular contact with users and without a well-defined outcome. And that leaves us all in an unproductive and infinite loop known as ”well, some things are being done”, in which we can never be sure whether what we do is useful or not, and if it is, for whom is useful and to what extent.

It is not so difficult to set clear goals and timeframes to be achieved. According to the data of the European Cycling Federation, in 2012 in Germany, 10% of passengers used bicycles every day for transport; the National Bicycle Development Plan predicts that it should reach 15% by 2020. In the Czech Republic, they plan to significantly improve the situation from 2013 when the share of cyclists in urban traffic was only 7% so that by 2020 this share will be 10%, and by 2025 it will increase to as much as 25%. Almost all European countries and larger cities have a strategic document that contains guidelines for the development of cycling traffic, and incentive measures need to be harmonized with them. We are still waiting for such document. In the meantime, the city invests significant funds in expanding important roads, such as the boulevard of Donja Gorica, where, even after the reconstruction, there will be no separate trails for cyclists. If the goal is dynamic, safe and accessible bicycle transport which links the entire urban area, this is a step backwards, since failures in the construction of the large infrastructure projects are difficult to correct and have a major impact on the future development of city traffic.

When we spoke at a public debate on sustainable mobility two years ago, the representative of the city administration concluded her presentation with the remark that sustainable mobility is necessary for a ”city of a pleasant living”, and the question: ”can Podgorica be such city?”. Answer depends solely on the courage of public administration, the comprehensive approach, and the development policy that will – or will not – create conditions, space and incentives for change. Podgorica can be whatever we want. We need to agree on what we really want, and start to work and dedicate ourselves to that.

Sonja Dragović, MSc in Urbanism and member of Biciklo.me

The blog was produced within the project “Civil Society for Good Governance: To Act and Account!”, Implemented by the Institute Alternative, Bonum, Nature, New horizon and Center for Research Journalism, and funded by the European Union within the Civil Society Facility , and the Balkan Trust for Democracy, a project of the German Marshall Fund of the US (GMF). The contents of the blog are the sole responsibility of the author and can not be taken to reflect the views of the donors.

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