Hungary: Surprise cycling power house

Hungary: Surprise cycling power house

Bike Auckland

Critical Mass Budapest Copyright Tankwart CC-BY-SA-3.0-DEBlog by Ben, a CAA member

Having lived in the Prague, Czech Republic and Bucharest, Romania, my impression of cycling in Central and Eastern Europe is that it is in much the same place as Auckland. There was a strong cycling culture in the former Warsaw Pact bloc but that was largely wiped out after 1989 and cycling was stigmatised as a “peasant” activity. Unfortunately, the word “peasant” carries no nostalgic or romantic connotations in that part of the world.

However, I surprising stand out in the cycling arena is Hungary and, in particular, its capital Budapest, a beautiful historic city of 1.8m inhabitants (and an impossible language). The country overall has a cycling rate just under 20%, about the same as Denmark (results of answering the question: “What is the main mode of transport that you use for your daily activities?”). It appears the real modal share in Budapest is a lot lower. But at about 4% and currently increasing quickly, it is still a number we can only state as an ambition here in Auckland.

The interesting question is how Hungary has got there in the context of similar cultural challenges as Auckland (though no helmet law). You may not be called a peasant in Auckland but you will sure be made to feel like one. Plus Budapest has the added handicaps of being quite a hilly city and having quite severe winters, especially compared to Auckland’s semi-tropical climate. As an example, an April 2013 Critical Mass ride attracted 80,000 people in Budapest.

Part of the answer may lie in some really cool marketing of Hungary’s national Bike to Work campaign – Bringázz a Munkába. has nominated the Hungarian capital as Eastern Europe’s most cycle-friendly city – maybe not a high standard to reach but still a great achievement (what about Auckland as Oceania’s most cycle friendly city?). Rather than appealing to the geeky, cycle nerds and advovates (who spend their time writing posts like this) they are trying to make cycling appear even cooler than it already is. According to the Hungarian Cyclists’ Club, the number of cyclists doubled in 2012.

I was in Budapest a couple of years ago and I must admit it didn’t strike me as a great place to cycle but obviously there is a lot happening I didn’t see. I also wasn’t able to cycle as my Romanian wife is a very reluctant cyclist.

Great to see a city with a similar population to Auckland which has turned around the debate on cycling and brought the politicians along for the ride (literally in some cases). A few lessons in there for Auckland cycle advocates I am sure.

A summary of the time line for the cycling movement in Budapest is here and makes interesting reading. Also some nice images in there of simple covered bike parking as well which looks eminently suitable for Auckland.


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