Sofia, Bulgaria: 10 inconvenient truths about bicycle lanes

Written by on November 1, 2017 in Bulgaria - Comments Off on Sofia, Bulgaria: 10 inconvenient truths about bicycle lanes

In 2003, someone in a high position at Sofia Municipality had probably just returned from a trip to Western Europe and decided to have bicycle lanes, “just like the Dutch and the Germans”. In several parts of the city, those bike lanes were drawn on pavements.

The fact that what they called bicycle lanes had lamp posts, phone booths and other hazards right on top of them, was obviously not seen as a problem. Back then, there was something else the Municipality did not think of: There were hardly any bicyclists in Sofia. So, who was supposed to use them?

Those bicycle lanes drawn on pavements disappeared after a few months, because just like the whole idea, the quality of the paint was bad.

Fourteen years later, things may have changed to some extent. But we are still not where we should be, to the opinion of our Associate Editor Imanuel Marcus, who used to cycle a lot, in Germany. These are his 10 inconvenient truths about bicycle lanes in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria:

1. Bike lanes on one side of the street only are not a good idea. What about those going in the other direction? Why should they be less secure?

2. Demarcations for bike lanes should last longer than one week. This is obviously not the case on Raikovski Street (see photo).

These demarcations on Sofia’s Raikovski Street lasted a week. Photo by Imanuel Marcus.

3. Demarcations for bike lanes should not be traps, as they are on Raikovski Street. Any bicyclist who accidentally hits one of them, will most likely fall, while cars are driving by, just centimetres from the cyclists.

4. A city which installs bike lanes with dangerous demarcations should at least make sure nobody parks on them, not even a Mercedes S-Class. What are cyclists supposed to do in the case shown on the photo below? Ride right over the S-Class or fall while trying to get across the demarcation?

This S-Class makes the new bike lane even more useless than it was before. Photo by Imanuel Marcus.

5. When bike lanes are being painted on pavements, some room should actually be left for a rather large group of people who are known to use them a lot. They are called pedestrians. You can identify them by looking for people who move forward by putting one foot in front of the other. The word for that activity is ‘walking’.

At Sofia’s Crystal Garden, the so-called city planners forgot about the pedestrians. Photo by Imanuel Marcus.

6. When building a new boulevard, in this case it is about Boulevard Dondukov, it might not be a good idea to have a bike lane on one side only either, even when that lane is wider than on Raikovski Street. Letting cyclists ride in both directions on one side of the street might work on Boulevard Czar Boris III, since they are separated from the cars by a fence. But in the case of Dondukov, that model is dangerous.

The new bike lane on Boulevard Dondukov. Photo by Imanuel Marcus.

7. When providing bike lanes, there should be bicyclists. During a long walk through the city center this week, two of them were seen. Sure, it does look different in summer.

8. Bulgarian drivers should be trained to deal with cyclists, at driving schools and e.g. in big awareness campaigns. When making right turns, drivers should always be looking over their right shoulder, for any cyclists behind them, who want to continue straight ahead and have the right of way. When overtaking cyclists, drivers should leave enough room. Generally, they should always watch out for people on bikes.

9. Drivers who do not care for pedestrians trying to cross streets on green, or on zebra crossings, will not care about cyclists either. Bulgaria’s driving culture has to change. That would help the cyclists too.

10. Cycling instead of driving cars improves the air quality. Sofia, as the capital with the most polluted air in all of the European Union, needs to do anything it can to improve the air quality, while making sure cyclists are safe. For those reasons as well, the implementation of wrongheaded ideas, like on Boulevard Dondukov, Raikovski Street, or in the Crystal Garden, are not recommendable. Amen.

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