Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Bicycle riding in Bucharest

Intro

Back in May I was bragging about a folding bicycle I bought and I promised to talk later about my impression about the traffic in Bucharest, so here goes a first report about that.


Before writing my impressions, I would like to tell a few things to put everything into the right perspective.

Since I bought the bicycle I have been riding it to work almost on a daily basis[1]. A trip from home to work takes about 30-40 minutes[2] and, according to the GPS tracks made with my phone, is about 7km long involving mostly roads with low traffic, small alleys or sidewalks just to keep it safe and enjoy the ride and maybe some shade from time to time. I am regularly leaving for work somewhere between 12:00 and 14:00 and I am returning sometime between the hours of 21:00 and 23:00[3].

Impressions - Tracks

There are no dedicated bicycle tracks on my regular route to work, so I tend to use small streets or even side walks. I made some trips in areas of Bucharest and I had the occasion to use the dedicated tracks, so I have an impression of the quality of the work done.

Generally one could say that in some places they did the tracks because they had to and didn't care about the practical use at all. In some places, out of pure luck, the surfaces used were smooth and had nice transition from the sidewalk they're using to the streets they're crossing. The track along the river that crosses Bucharest, Dâmbovița, is particularly a disaster in its own category forcing cyclists to wait, for each intersection, at three traffic lights since the track doesn't simply crosses the intersection, but it's shaped as a U probably not to conflict with cars steering left on bridges.

I am sure you're now confused, so I'll try to explain. In Romania we drive on the right (as opposed to wrong/left :-P) side of the road. The road along the river has the directions separated, one for each side of the river. There are side walks on each side of each of the directions, but the track is marked on the side walks closer to the river. Since all traffic lights directing the traffic along the river let all cars coming from the same direction cross the intersection at the same time, the cyclists going forward would be at risk of being hit by cars steering left towards the bridge; they probably thought that is a good idea to force cyclists to cross the road they rode in parallel with until the intersection, cross the intersection, then cross once more the road to get back on the inside side walk where the track is marked.

So if you're riding a bike, you get a penalty at each intersection and you wait three rounds of traffic light changes. Cars driving in the same direction as you do, lose maybe a minute at most, you, as a cyclist, lose in the best case probably around 2-3 minutes and you inhale the fumes of the cars waiting at the traffic light. Yes, that's GREAT, not.

Here is a link which makes this more visible: http://norc.ro/pano/BHf9a10Y/

Because of this over-head chin scratching, many cyclists prefer to simply ignore the track and ride on the road putting themselves at risk. I used that track twice and, believe me, after the second intersection you want to do that, too, or use the outer side walk.


As a bonus, some side walks hosting the tracks were not adjusted in any way for cyclists (or maybe they were turned into traps after the track was marked) and you might encounter disasters such as these:

High borders:
http://norc.ro/pano/7U3GNch6/
http://norc.ro/pano/H9b9rmPl/
http://norc.ro/pano/JOsuswcj/
http://norc.ro/pano/TKPlKEgR/
http://norc.ro/pano/BHf9a10Y/
http://norc.ro/pano/DBQoN934/

Bicycle traps (notice how the pit was made of the same width as the track itself):
http://norc.ro/pano/k3mOkXpQ/

But we do have our share of considerate drivers which park on the few tracks we have:
http://norc.ro/pano/HiTcml0E/

while pedestrians are not that keen on leaving the track clear for cyclists, either:
http://norc.ro/pano/M3xxUC08/


In all fairness, when conditions permited it (or should I say, when we were lucky enough to already have the proper terrain?), the tracks are OK:

http://norc.ro/pano/ItuKL3KP/
http://norc.ro/pano/uVAUqEo6/

Impressions - Small roads

Since there are no tracks on my way to work, I am using small roads which have low traffic. Some of them have really poor conditions, some are really good, but often I find myself prefering one poorer road or alley if is more shaded and I am riding during daylight.

In most cases drivers are civilised and, for instance, don't try to over pass me, if I signal left. Sometimes I feel that some of them drive too close to me and leave me no choice in case of an emergency, but what can I do?


Impressions - Night rides

It seems that the night is the proper time for creepy, stupid or crazy drivers to come out. I found that after sunset drivers seem to be careless and sometimes plain idiots.

One time I was about to cross an intersection while from the opposite direction, a taxi driver was preparing to steer left, crossing my path, so he was supposed to give way for me. The intersection was lit and I was already crossing when he approached the intersection, so there was no way he couldn't have seen me. In spite of that, he decided that it would be a good idea to continue his way, he even pushed on the gas since he was in a hurry to stop a few meters from the intersection. I had to break so I wouldn't end up on his hood or his right front seat. Of course, he felt obliged to swear when I asked if he was insane crossing my path like that putting my life in jeopardy. Idiot.

Such experiences seem to happen more often after sunset, even if I ride on lit roads.


Stray dogs seem to be particularly annoyed by bicycles, especially if going too fast. There are some areas where they tend to gather, so I try to avoid those areas or ride slowly but prepared to accelerate when riding past such dogs.

Only once a stray dog barked at me during mid day, so I assume there was something wrong with that particular dog.


In conclusion I can say that riding in Bucharest could be a lot better, but I guess people need to be educated into getting used to cyclists on the roads.


[1] excepting some days with really bad weather and a break of a week since I was feeling some pain in my left knee at that time
[2] It would probably take even less if I were to push a little, but that is not the goal and it wouldn't be a nice experience
[3] at night I am wearing a high visibility jacket, although I am riding on lit roads; OTOH, I haven't bought yet a front lamp since I really want to by a solar powered one, but I can't find one at an acceptable price; I'll probably buy a set with front and tail light plus some rechargeable batteries and change to the solar one, once I find one that pleases me

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

All of your picture links lead to a page that requires Flash to show anything useful.

Anonymous said...

Eddy

If you want solar power for the sake of carbon footprint, a bycicle is probably better served by a dinamo light. Very efficient, no need to recharge batteries, waaay cheaper than any solar powered lamp (dinamo in the front wheel hub can be somehow more expensive), high-end dinamo lights can be much brighter than cheap battery lights.

Just a suggestion

Gunnar said...

Great to see you using your foldable bike! Some points:

...I will also complain about the Flash-only images I cannot see :(

You say you take small streets or even side walks. When riding on a bike, never take the side walk - even more so with a foldable! First, the surface is much less regular than on the road itself. Second, pedestrians are not expecting you, and crashing into them (or going by them at bike-speed) is just rude. But most important, third: No cars expect a vehicle to come out of the sidewalk. You are much more likely to have an accident either by being hit by a car going out of the garage or when crossing a street than if you go on the road itself!

About the stupid waits at the U-shaped things you have to wait for: How do pedestrians behave in the same situation? Do they also cross three streets? I do not expect it to be so... The bike is very versatile - you can just behave as a pedestrian and cross with the rest of them (walking with the bike by your side).

Anyway, in Mexico we also have too few real bicycle tracks - We have some tracks painted on the rightmost track of regular road surfaces (a-la-UK Red Lanes), which are useless as people park their cars there. In some places I have seen apparent bike tracks along the middle separation of both-ways streets - They are even more dangerous than riding with the traffic (as a hit may come from the sides at any crossing) and go up and down over and over. Useless. And in the few cases the cycleway is decently done, people use it as a sidewalk. I practically always take the regular road. After all, the bicycle is just another (although slower and more fragile) vehicle, right?

In most cases drivers are civilised and, for instance, don't try to over pass me, if I signal left. Sometimes I feel that some of them drive too close to me and leave me no choice in case of an emergency, but what can I do? — Make yourself visible! I always ride with a bright orange sleeveless jacket, with reflective strips; ring my bell when passing near any vehicle on the left, and ride at least one meter away from any parked vehicle.

About your experience at night: Sigh, yes, same here. I always try to move by bike during the day or early night (say, until ~21:00). Yesterday I came back home at 23:00, and was quite scared just because of the time - because people like speeding, because some moron might be drunk, whatnot. Still, make yourself seen. And heard. In the incident with the taxi: Always try to establish eye contact (although I understand, that was an awkward turn anyway). At least you heard him step on the gas, so that gave you warning so you stopped on time :-/

Last, regarding a comment on your prior post on this subject: Do bring your bike to Cáceres! I have only once travelled with mine, which I brought in late May. I took it to Nicaragua - The plane stopped at Guatemala on the way there, and on Salvador and Guatemala on the way back. As I didn't have a proper bag, I wrapped the bike with the plastic material they have at some airports - This time, going to Spain, I got a large enough suitcase, so it will be better protected. The bit that holds the wire for the back brakes got a bit damaged, and the central gear got slightly bent - nothing that a quick stop at the repair shop doesn't fix in 15 minutes. And you get the freedom to bike in other countries!

Oh, if you pack your bike as luggage: Remember to completely deinflate the tires, as the luggage compartment is not airtight, and the tires can explode if you don't empty them. I will be carrying my pump with me, so getting back rolling should be easy.

See you in Cáceres!

eddyp said...

All of your picture links lead to a page that requires Flash to show anything useful.

Yes, indeed, sorry about that. I'll report a bug against gnash about this.

eddyp said...

Eddy

If you want solar power for the sake of carbon footprint, a bycicle is probably better served by a dinamo light.


I'd prefer solar because they give a steady light even when I'm not pedalling or pedalling really slowly.

I usually reduce speed in order to better see which way I can go when I am trying to avoid obstacles. The dynamo light dims exactly at that point.

Very efficient, no need to recharge batteries, waaay cheaper than any solar powered lamp (dinamo in the front wheel hub can be somehow more expensive), high-end dinamo lights can be much brighter than cheap battery lights.

The whole idea with solar powered lamp is that it can charge during the day and use the power later during night. This matches perfectly my routine.

Also, I dislike the sound of the dynamo and the wear it produces on the tyre, so less reasons to prefer dynamos. Granted, maybe newer dynamos are better, while I had an experience with an old one, still, I am prefering solar LED lamps over dynamos.

OTOH, my bicycle doesn't have a dedicated mount for the dynamo which means that whatever dynamo I might use I have a significant chance for it to slip, not fit well, etc.

eddyp said...

...I will also complain about the Flash-only images I cannot see :(


Sorry about that...

When riding on a bike, never take the side walk - even more so with a foldable! First, the surface is much less regular than on the road itself.

I agree with that, but as an exception, the side walks I use (only two of them) are quite good and very few people use them.

Second, pedestrians are not expecting you, and crashing into them (or going by them at bike-speed) is just rude.

I agree is rude to pass by them at speed, still, I never go at speed by them and I always ride at walk speed behind them until they allow me to pass, without me saying anything.

Second, the more circulated side walk of the two, is parallel to a street which is exit towards one of the motorways (incomplete and short as they are) and cars have a speed limit there with 10km above the regular speed limit within municipalities, so is even more dangerous.

I know is not the best thing I could do, but I think it is the safest for me and everyone else.

But most important, third: No cars expect a vehicle to come out of the sidewalk. You are much more likely to have an accident either by being hit by a car going out of the garage or when crossing a street than if you go on the road itself!

Indeed, that's why I slow down to walk speed and make sure is safe to cross when I approach streets; let's say I really picked carefully my side walks to ride on and I take extra care to stay safe, in spite of the insane traffic in Bucharest. One of them has mostly intersections with short closes and the other one has none, so they are really special.


As I said before, I think I am safer and since I am really careful, this works out good for me, although it would be a lot better if tracks existed.

How do pedestrians behave in the same situation? Do they also cross three streets? I do not expect it to be so... The bike is very versatile - you can just behave as a pedestrian and cross with the rest of them (walking with the bike by your side).

They usually use the outer side walks, so they don't generally fit the same situation. The inner side walks are not and were not that used before the tracks existed; I suspect the reason for the tracks to be there is that they were not used, so there was no loss for anybody.

Do bring your bike to Cáceres!

Sorry, I won't. I've seen what the morons at the airport in Bucharest can do to luggage and I am not risking any damage to or loss of my bike. If it were only for the other airports, I'd probably bring it, but when the morons at the Otopeni airport comes into play, everything changes.

I know I'd probably have fun with the bike, but I'll pass on that for now.

I have only once travelled with mine, which I brought in late May.
[..]This time, going to Spain, I got a large enough suitcase, so it will be better protected. The bit that holds the wire for the back brakes got a bit damaged, and the central gear got slightly bent - nothing that a quick stop at the repair shop doesn't fix in 15 minutes. And you get the freedom to bike in other countries!


I already had one regular luggage broken beyond repair by the airport handlers and I've seen it with my own eyes when they did it. I concluded that they will not take care not to put heavy luggage over it, or all the other luggage, for that matter, so unless I can't carry it with me and place it in the bin above my head, I am not taking any chance.

Oh, if you pack your bike as luggage: Remember to completely deinflate the tires, as the luggage compartment is not airtight, and the tires can explode if you don't empty them.

Thanks for the advice. It never crossed my mind to deflate the tyres, although it makes total sense.

I will be carrying my pump with me, so getting back rolling should be easy.

My bike has a built in pump in the saddle, so getting air pressure into the tyres was not a concern ;-) .