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Feature 08 Sep 16

Belgrade: Far from Bike-Friendly

Despite longstanding local authority promises to make the capital cyclefriendly, very little progress has yet been made.

Ivana Nikolic
The Critical Mass city ride on June 25. Photo: Facebook.

If you are a keen cyclist who would like nothing better than to take off on a bike and explore Belgrade on your own, you are in for something of a disappointment.

The city has around 65 kilometres of cycle lanes, many of which are in poor condition. Between 30 and 40 kilometres are fit for purpose, but campaigners say even these do not connect key sites and attractions across the city.

Zoran Bukvic, from the Belgrade Streets for Cyclists group, says poor connectivity and signage are among the major problems.

“Local authorities should first connect the city centre with the flatter districts… such as New Belgrade or [the neighbourhood of] Palilula and also mark the lanes in the city centre itself,” Bukvic told BIRN.

His organisation, established in 2011, seeks to make Belgrade more cycle-friendly and as such, is urging the local authorities to invest more in cycle lanes as opposed to favouring cars.

“Belgrade for people, not for cars” is one of the group’s slogans.

In addition to an “unwillingness to discourage car traffic” and encourage cycling, Bukvic believes “very slow” infrastructure improvements, including general road repairs, are also undermining efforts to be cycle-friendly.

Walking across downtown Belgrade, you cannot actually see the cycle lanes or the signs marking them. Not only that, if you have spent even just a little time in the city you will be familiar with the aggressive driving style among drivers and, of course, the constant traffic jams. Both conspire to ensure only the most determined of cyclists dare hit the streets.

Unlike other cities, you will rarely see people riding bikes to work or to pick up children from school.

Almost the only places people have the courage to ride a bike are in parks or large recreation areas, such as Kosutnjak Park, New Belgrade (close to the Sava and Danube rivers), Ada Ciganlija or the area called May 25 at Dorcol.

Bukvic and his fellow campaigners from Streets for Cyclists have been sending complaints and appeals to the local authorities for years now. Sometimes they are lucky, sometimes they are not, but they are not giving up.

In the past several years, they have won several minor victories, including the extension of the working hours of the bicycle elevator on Branko’s Bridge during the summer season.

Another ‘sweet’ victory was the separation of cyclists and pedestrians on the Sava promenade with green fields, as well as the local authorities' adoption of the group’s suggestions about the locations and types of cyclists’ parking lots in Belgrade.

However, many promises still remain unfulfilled.

Bukvic says “nothing in particular“ has happened yet, as the authorities are still working on the possibilities of constructing more bicycle lanes in the city.

Among many of the promises, Belgrade Mayor Sinisa Mali claimed last June that Belgrade cares for cyclists, revealing that the Arab-backed Belgrade Waterfront project also includes a 10km lane dedicated only to cyclists.

Apart from lobbying for a more cycle-friendly city, the group also organises a monthly bike ride through Belgrade as part of the global cycling movement known as Critical Mass (Kriticna masa). The monthly protest ride takes place in 300 cities worldwide and aims to draw attention to common problems cyclists face.

In Belgrade, it is scheduled for every last Saturday of the month and kicks off at 5pm at Republic Square.

BIRN has contacted local authorities for more information on the maintenance of bicycle lanes and their plans to make the city more suitable for cyclists, but received no answer by the time of the publication.

In the meantime, frustrated cyclists might consider taking part in one of Ralph van der Zijden’s cycling tours.

The Dutchman set up iBikeBelgrade in 2011, which offers guided cycle tours through Belgrade for those who might prefer to face the roads in company.

With few options to choose from and in the absence of significant infrastructure improvements, a bike-friendly Belgrade seems a way off yet.

This article was published in BIRN's bi-weekly newspaper Belgrade Insight. Here is where to find a copy.

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