Two-wheel transport gaining popularity

Two-wheel transport gaining popularity in Belarus

The popular European tendency of choosing bicycles is passing by our country. Two-wheel transport is gaining popularity, and the necessary infrastructure is developing.
By Mikhail Svetlovsky

Belarus is known as one of the car richest Eastern European states with almost 25 percent of the population possessing their own vehicle. However, it’s not possible to assert that the popular European tendency of choosing bicycles is passing by our country. Two-wheel transport is gaining popularity, and the necessary infrastructure is developing. Not long ago, specialists calculated that by early 2015, Minsk is likely to join the top twenty ‘most bicycle rich’ cities of the world (not by the number of cycling enthusiasts, but the length of the cycle path network).

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As declared, the total length of primary and combined bicycle tracks in Minsk will reach 500km by early 2015. Even if these plans fail to be realised, the city would nevertheless top the post-Soviet states in this respect. Interestingly, Minsk already enjoys a more stretched network than Moscow, where cyclists have access to over 150km of special paths.

znak.jpgThe Belarusian capital is now ready to outstrip many European cities too, where cycling traffic is highly dense. Among them are Budapest, Brussels, Madrid, Prague, Barcelona and Milan. The country is now also able to outstrip some global capitals from other continents: Tokyo, Rio-de-Janeiro and Buenos-Aires. According to recent data, Copenhagen, New York and Vienna boast the greatest networks, with each of these cities having around 1,000km of cycling paths. Bicycle routes are intensively developing in Berlin and Montreal, with each having over 700km of networks. Paris is expected to enjoy a similar figure by late 2014.

Meanwhile, evidently, Minsk will lag behind the above mentioned cities regarding the number of cyclists. According to some estimations, over 400,000 Minskers (or around 20 percent of the capital’s total population) use bicycles, with their number rising by 40,000 annually. In addition, Minsk is above all other Belarusian cities which register just around 16 percent of cyclists on average. Moreover, the number of active cyclists — those who regularly travel via their two-wheel transport — is low: slightly more than 1 percent. During the summer, over 200 cyclists per hour will pass some sections of Minsk’s paths — which is a high result. At the same time, most Minskers fail to use their bicycles as often as Europeans, turning to it less than once a week.

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With this in mind, it’s too early to be pleased with Minsk cyclists. The city’s paths are special — being often united with pavements and, as the Deputy Director of Velozona Network Development, Igor Davydenko, admits, “In the EU, this type of transport is provided with a separate stripe while, in Belarus, bicycles actually use pavements to travel.” Therefore cyclists need to be extremely attentive in order not to bump into passers-by. In addition, they always worry that their wheels could be damaged by a steep kerb. Unsurprisingly, Minskers prefer mountain bikes — such as GT, LTD or Cannondale, demonstrating little interest in city models.

Mr. Davydenko named the parameters which describe the friendliest cities for cyclists; among them are the length of paths, number of bike parking lots, routes and rental centres, and the attitude towards cyclists. In recent years, Minsk has advanced in all these areas, as the expert admits. “As a result, we now have more cyclists and the average travel distance has grown,” he said. “An increasing number of Belarusians are turning to bicycles to travel to work or spend a family weekend. In this respect, we are approaching the leading European cities.”
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