After spending some time in Eastern Europe, I was pleasantly surprised by the social acceptance and visionary advocacy of the bicycle in Budapest, Hungary. It is common to see businessmen, tourists and trendy 20-somethings zooming around the city on two wheels. Budapest is a leading emerging bicycle city, and it seems to have found the winning formula.
Trains have bike racks, encouraging bike travel, and numerous bikers can be seen traversing the train station. Bike maps are available at some metro stations and to make biking and skateboarding super fun, there are park ramps set-up around the city.
Most of the docking stations are located on the flatter Pest side of town. To discourage vandalism and theft, the bikes are made of irremovable parts that are not compatible with other bikes. A rack on the front of the bike makes them fit for hauling stuff.
Car-Free Weekend is a big festival in Budapest, where a large street becomes car-free and coincides with other nearby events, and a variety of musical, theatrical and bike-friendly activities encourages car-free fun.
Several companies offer biking tours for tourists, making the bike-friendly aspect of the city easily attainable for visitors. Yellow Zebra seemed especially family friendly, by having child bike seats and tag-alongs available for rent or use during tours.
Critical Mass, a cycling event that occurs in cities around the world, is alive and well in Budapest. The Earth Day 2013 event was estimated to have 100,000 participants, which speaks volumes for the popularity of this green, healthy and fun form of transportation.
Budapest emerging as a biking city is a smart economic strategy for the city, not just in promoting bike-friendly tourism and a livable city, but also for keeping transportation dollars (or in this case Forint) in the local economy.
Owning, maintaining, and driving cars is very expensive and most of that money leaves the local economy with the purchase of fuel and insurance, as well the purchase of the car and replacement parts.
As the bicycle emerges in Budapest, so will a new bicycle economy that creates less traffic congestion, bike shops and bike tours -- and saves money from pedal power.
Image credits: Sarah Lozanova Sarah Lozanova is a regular contributor to environmental and energy publications and websites, including Mother Earth Living, Green Building & Design, Triple Pundit, Urban Farm, and Solar Today. Her experience includes work with small-scale solar energy installations and utility-scale wind farms. She earned an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School and she resides in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in Mid-coast Maine with her husband and two children.
Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.