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For years, Moscow has stood out among major international cites for its undeveloped cycling infrastructure. Recently, some steps aimed at improving the situation have been taken, but a long road still lies ahead.
Places where a cyclist can safely and comfortably ride in the city are few and far between. Only folding bicycles are allowed on the metro, and riding a bike to work or to classes on congested streets or sidewalks with no bicycle lanes is mostly out of the question.
Partially in response to rallies staged by cyclists representing various organizations and clubs, City Hall earlier this year unveiled a program for creating a cycling infrastructure in the city. Currently, some work in the areas of traffic lane marking, navigation and bicycle-related legislation is in progress.
At the center of the city government’s initiative is also the creation of three bike tracks connecting different neighborhoods, and the installation of 2,000 bicycle parking lots.
Last year, a 7.5-kilometer bicycle track was set up on Prospekt Vernadskogo in southwest Moscow, connecting the Moscow State University’s buildings with its student dormitories. The track is equipped with 12 parking lots with a combined capacity for 216 bicycles.
Pyotr Biryukov, deputy mayor in charge of housing and communal services, was quoted by RIA Novosti earlier this year as saying that 23 kilometers of bike tracks were being designed for the Central Administrative District, while another 11.3 kilometers of bike tracks had already been set up this year.
New bicycle tracks are planned to link Gorky Park with Ulitsa Kosygina in the city’s west via the Moscow River’s embankments, Biryukov said.
Meanwhile, bike tracks currently under construction are to link the neighborhoods of Kapotnya and Marino, and the metro stations Chertanovskaya and Belyayevo, while another is to run along the Moscow River embankments, a favorite place of the city’s cyclists.
However, city residents and its cycling community are far from unanimously supporting the initiatives.
“I don’t fully understand why the Central Administrative District was chosen for the [bike parking] pilot project rather than some more peripheral but equally ‘cycling’ district, like the Western Administrative District or Zelenograd,” Pyotr Dvoryankin, head of the cycling movement Rusvelos, told The Moscow News.
He added that cycling activists were invited to inspect the proposed venues for parking lots, but no criteria or common approaches were presented. “As a result, the prospects of this large-scale project are unclear,” Dvoryankin noted.
Meanwhile, the construction of a bike track in Bittsevsky forest, which was supposed to link the metro stations Belyayevo and Chertanovskaya, triggered protest rallies by local residents in late summer. They were shocked to see holes for street lamps being dug, damaging trees’ roots.
A report aired last month by the TV channel Moskva 24 quoted Dmitry Pchelin, a local environmental activist, as saying that the construction work had been carried out with gross violations of environmental legislation, as Bittsevsky Forest has the status of a special protected zone. Trying to disrupt the construction work, Pchelin even tried to physically block the operation of a road construction machine.
The same report quoted Anton Nikolayev, a municipal deputy, as saying that he didn’t have the relevant documents and couldn’t say whether the construction was illegal.
Local residents were also upset by the fact that no public hearings were held to discuss the construction of the bicycle track. Environmental activists told Moskovskiye Novosti that they had found tender documentation for the project online, according to which the design would cost 16 million rubles, construction 50 million rubles and another 49 million rubles would be spent on lighting the track.
At the same time, the original project for the embankment bicycle track has been cancelled. However, a much more ambitious bicycle project for the same section of the city has been developed by entrepreneur Dmitry Ugryumov and architect Alexander Perov.
The “velopoliten” (a combination of the Russian words for “bicycle” and “metro”), which was first presented at the festival Arkhstoyaniye last summer, features tubes that would be attached to the embankments above the riverfront. The tubes would accommodate bicycle tracks in both directions plus a passage for pedestrians and wheelchairs.
Ugryumov told The Moscow News that the project received a positive response from the city youth and social policy department and was scheduled to be presented to Moscow’s mayor Sergei Sobyanin in September, but the presentation was later postponed.
“A Tver-based construction company that specializes in pedestrian overpasses estimated the construction costs at 20 million rubles per 100 meters,” he said. “But to do the design we need cash, and there are no sponsors at this point. Without support from Moscow authorities, the project wouldn’t obtain necessary permissions.”
Ugryumov agreed that the “velopoliten” project would be most effective as part of a better-developed bicycle infrastructure in the city, as cyclists would have to get to the embankments first, before they could enter the tubes. But he pointed to City Hall’s plans to set up bicycle tracks leading to the embankments.
Meanwhile, cycling activists have come up with a set of measures that they believe should be taken to improve the city’s cycling infrastructure.
According to Dvoryankin, the creation of an expert group including cycling activists under the auspices of the Moscow government’s transport department is a good sign, but their opinions are not always taken into account.
To improve the cycling infrastructure in Moscow, a system for bicycle storage in apartment buildings and court yards should be developed, cycling activists have suggested.
Another point they made is that decisions about setting up new bike tracks should be taken at the level of municipalities, as local authorities and neighborhood residents know better where and how the neighborhood’s cycling infrastructure should be developed.
The idea of connecting university buildings with dormitories should be developed further, Dvoryankin said, citing the Prospekt Vernadskogo track as a positive example.
And, eventually, the existing traffic rules should be adjusted taking the interests of cyclists into account. According to Dvoryankin, cyclists should enjoy the same traffic rights as motorbike and scooter riders, but some instructions and explanations for vehicle drivers should be made.
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