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September 16, 2021

Bicycle, the solution to save Bucharest

Overweight affects 31.1 percent of the Romanian people, while obesity – a real public health problem – comprised over 20 percent of individuals aged 18 and over, according to the epidemiological survey called “Obesity in Romania (ORO) – The prevalence of obesity and of the obesity’s risk factors within the adult population in Romania”, published by the Romanian Association for the Study of Obesity.

Air quality in Bucharest makes oneself cheap. According to the data provided by the European Statistics Office related to the satisfaction level of the people living in the EU Capitals, only 22 percent of the Bucharest’s citizen declared to be satisfied in 2015 by the air they breathe, while 31% percent were satisfied by the noise level of the city.

Every day, people in Bucharest are spending dozens of minutes in traffic, either in public transport means or in their own cars, trapped in the urban jungle defined by the streets narrowed by the vehicles that are parked everywhere, by an obsolete traffic light system and, in general, by a very poor management. Besides, in 2014 Bucharest was the city with the highest number of traffic jams in Europe, with a congestion index of 41 percent, according to a survey ordered by the Romanian Government and financed by EBRD.

The Capital has an area of 228 square km. and around 1.9 million citizens, according to the indicated official statistics revealed by the census in 2011. Unofficially, it is estimated that more than 3 million people are simmering in the city, and in the next five years this number will overcome 4 million people, due to its attractiveness in terms of economics and because of the fact that the localities around the city, which will be part of the Metropolitan Area, are in a fast development.

Given the circumstances, we may clearly conclude that one of the most important actions to be taken by the mayoralty is to encourage bike riding. Otherwise we will get to spend all of our time in traffic, suffocated by pollution.

Biking is one of the most sustainable transport means, both for the environment and for a decongestant traffic. But nobody does anything in Bucharest in order to encourage the two wheels traffic.

While local authorities in the Dutch city of Groningen, for instance, wish to implement traffic lights based on rain sensors in order to give priority to the bicyclists when raining, or warmed bike trails in order not to allow the bike riders to slide when there’s frost outside, we don’t even have racks for bikes at the public authorities’ headquarters. Not to mention bike trails or safe conditions – we don’t even say civilized conditions! – for the two wheels traffic on the right side of the street?… All these things would seem hilarious for a foreign citizen coming in Bucharest from bike-friendly cities, but there’s a sad reality here.

In Romania’s Capital, any bicyclist knows that it’s extremely dangerous to ride by the law, close to the kerb, since the biggest traps are there. No one is concerned to eliminate them, even they consist in a danger also for the car drivers’ life. Also, any bicyclist knows that neither the authorities, nor the employers are making any effort – neither in terms of increasing traffic safety, nor in terms of the awareness/educational campaigns regarding the benefits of two wheels moving – in order to encourage this transport mean, because the arrogance of the car drivers is still making the rules in Romania. It’s an arrogance that discourages and kills. Because of the ignorance of the authorities and the incapacity of making an effort to find a solution, those who have to travel in Bucharest are suffocated by traffic jams.

The only solution which the Capital’s leadership has found until now to this end consists in the bike trails. But they are made on the sidewalk, not on the roadway! Moreover, they are not continuous, they are located from place to place. And even so, they are not intelligently made, since they pass through bus stations, pillars, parking places or even stores! It’s a failure for which all of us had to pay. A lot of. Because the lines drawn on the sidewalk with sticker costed almost EUR 150,000 per kilometer.

The new Mayor, Gabriela Firea, found the same solution. “I decided that the sector mayors have to identify in the shortest possible time the proper areas for the bike trails construction; the 3rd Sector town hall has already identified several areas where, as an emergency, we will start their construction”, stated Firea at a meeting with the mayors. I repeat, this is strictly the opinion of a person not riding a bike every day to go to work, who doesn’t understand this is not the solution, namely pumping more money, occupying more space, causing a bigger fight between the “groups”, the bikers, the car drivers and the pedestrians.

We could easily ask for advice from the experts who already made operational systems, from the bike-friendly cities. But do we really wish to do things right, as an investment for the following dozens of years? No, we’re not, we are hunting votes, we think everything for a short-term and, more than everything, we think we know everything when we actually don’t know the essence of the issue. Thus, Bucharest citizens will have to pay again some bike trails who will not solve the problem even if they will be made on the roadway. Although everything that should be done is to create a friendly infrastructure to encourage the two wheels traffic, to enter in the history of this city and to be left as a heritage for our children.

Today, people living in Groeningen have an average of 1.4 bicycles per individual and 3.1 bicycles per family, the cars number is decreasing and the interest of walking by the bike everywhere is higher and higher. Everything started in the early ‘70s, when a few people approached with a lot of courage the matter of the crowded traffic because of the increasing number of vehicles. Then, as now in Bucharest, everybody was dreaming to have a car without thinking where they will park and how much time they will spend in traffic jams. Politician Max van den Berg, who was responsible by the traffic in the city and the urban development, had a dream, to have a city in which pedestrians and bike riders will prevail, instead of vehicles. His intention was met with a lot of skepticism, with verbal attacks and even threats, especially made by the worried traders that people will not come to their stores anymore. However, in the circumstances of the growth of the road accidents, the plan was totally successful. Car parking places have become green spaces or commercial areas, trees were planted, the noise has been incredibly reduced and the air quality has been increasing in an important extent. Moreover, you almost can’t see fat people, not to mention the obese people.

All that they needed was a lot of courage. But courage is not in the nature of the Romanian politicians, who are trying to please everybody to gain votes, which doesn’t bring anything good in the long-term.

Unfortunately, in this moment, in a European Capital like Bucharest, where the few biker groups and associations prefer to be satisfied with small actions instead of designing a joint plan, together with those who use bicycles as the main transport mean in the city, and where the General mayor didn’t try even once to go from home to work on two wheels – through the traffic and without the forerunner! – to really understand what it has to be done, Bucharest remains a place where bicyclists are deemed to be self-murderers (!). Although, in a long-term period, bike riding is the most sustainable option which the city with high density of people have in order to sole the traffic jam problem, the pollution and the growth of the life quality.

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