2007-09-28 Ruth Frankova
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Cycling in Prague only for the brave?

Cycling in Prague - only for the braveCycling in Prague - only for the brave
The politics of traffic is congesting the capital. Visitors coming to Prague from Holland or Scandinavia may get the impression that Czechs don't like cycling. Seeing bikes on the streets of the Czech capital isn’t unknown, but compared to other European cities, there are still very few of them. Besides, you almost never come across bicycles parked in the streets. Yet, strange as it may seem, statistics say that every second inhabitant of Prague is a bicycle owner and Czechs claim that cycling is their favorite sport. Radio Prague’s Ruth Frànkova has been finding out.

For one thing, many Czechs are wary of using their bikes in the city for fear of theft. But that's not all: what keeps the cyclists off the streets is a bit more complicated than that. Prague councillor for transport Petr Stepanek says one of the reasons could be that Czechs are also simply fond of driving their cars:

"Czechs are still amazed that they can buy expensive cars and some of them behave accordingly. That's something no infrastructure will solve and we have to work on relations between people. We have to work on a road culture that also favours the weaker participants - pedestrians and bicyclists."

Councillor Petr StepanekCouncillor Petr Stepanek
Czechs definitely don't belong among the most tolerant drivers in Europe. But if you have to cycle through streets stuck with cars with no lanes reserved for bikes, politeness doesn't really solve the problem. Michal Krivohlavek of the Auto-Mat Initiative, which was established a few years ago to promote the rights of cyclists, says there are simply too many cars in the city.

"Prague is the most motorized city in Europe at this moment. We were second at the top ten after Rome but I think two years ago we hit the top. There is one car per 1.4 people. Most trips in Prague - 43 % - are made by public transport, 33% by cars, 22% on foot, and 2% on bike."

Councillor Stepanek, himself a big cycling fan, says his council is the first in the history of Prague that had the courage to suggest that they would limit access of city centre by cars. But Michal Krivohlavek is sceptical, arguing that politicians promise a lot but little is actually done on the ground. Meanwhile, he and his colleagues try to push through smaller changes which, however, have a big effect on the every-day life of cyclists. A few years ago, Michal Krivohlavek set up his own project called Ruzove Kolo or Pink Bike. You can attend his workshop and get your bike painted bright, fluorescent pink to make it more visible. I was curious how he got the idea at the first place.

Protest ride on bikes through the centre of PragueProtest ride on bikes through the centre of Prague
"When my fourth bicycle was stolen two years ago in Prague I decided that the fifth one was not going to be an easy target for thieves. I bought brand new bicycle and the same day I painted it pink. And I hoped it was going to take out the bike from the black economy of stealing and reselling the stolen bicycles." And did it work? ”Even the pink bikes have its limits. I got rid of it by parking it for two weeks in the city when I was too busy. When you park the bike for more than two weeks in the streets, even the pink bikes can be stolen. But it works perfectly on a regular basis that you leave your bicycle in the street and pick it up in two three days later."

But instead of talking all the time about obstacles to cycling I wanted to hear something more positive. I asked Mr Krivohlavek to give me some reasons why I should prefer my bike to the public transport or cars.

"It's really quick. It's incomparable with other means of transport. If you are in the city centre, you can get everywhere in the city in 20 to 30 minutes. I am not doing any sport because I get regular portion of body movement during the transportation. I think it's a great advantage. Otherwise, 90 % of people in Prague have occupation where they sit all day long and afterwards they are seeking some occasions to move their bodies."

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