27 September 2011


Ljubljana Cycle Chic_6 (2)
I felt at home on my recent visit to Ljubljana, Slovenia. Arriving from Copenhagen in a city with 10% modal share for bicycles is always a pleasure. I was attending to three bits of business. Opening European Mobility Week at the Foreign Ministry with the Danish Ambassador and the Slovenian Foreign Minister, giving my Four Goals for Promoting Urban Cycling talk at the City Museum and opening the world premiere of my Monumental Motion exhibition.

A busy but thrilling and rewarding couple of days. Inbetween gigs I cycled around the city with my friend Janez, Ljubljana's Cycling Officer and some urban planning colleagues.
Ljubljana Cycle Chic_17 Ljubljana Bicycle Life_7 Ljubljana Bicycle Life_19
Ljubljana Cycle Chic_20
I was given a Bullitt to ride so I felt even more at home, although the Nihola would have done it, too. Thanks to Miha at Emil Hernandez for the loan.

The goal of the cycle ride around the city was to look at some problems in the bicycle infrastructure network and to see what we could do about it. With 10% modal share, I knew that there was decent infrastructure in place. We started in the city centre with some infrastructure that was... well... interesting.

Ljubljana Cycle Chic_24
We headed out to the near suburbs, towards a "problem intersection" that needed some Copenhagenizing. It was on the way out there that I looked down. And saw something quite lovely.

Ljubljana Bicycle Life_8
I speed up alongside Janez and asked him what the hell we were cycling on. It looked remarkably like a Copenhagen-style cycle track.
Ljubljana Cycle Chic_30

Oh yes, he assured me. It was. Then he told me a splendid story. Back in the late 60s/early 70s a team of urban planners travelled from Ljubljana to Copenhagen to study bicycle infrastructure. This was at the height of the Cold War - although the Iron Curtain as far as Slovenia/Yugoslavia was concerned was more of a dangly bead curtain, but hey. They studied infrastructure and went home and just built it. Copy/paste. Ctrl+C/Ctrl+V. They built 45 kilometres of these perfectly separated cycle tracks and THAT is where Ljubljana was launched onto it's journey as a bicycle-friendly city. From 2% to 10% in just a couple of years.

It boggles the mind that urban planners in other cities and countries don't do the same. Copy paste best practice from Denmark or the Netherlands. Save time. Save money. Save fixing the mistakes later. Amazingly, cities are still putting in bike lanes painted on the LEFT side of parked cars, instead of along the curb. As Jan Gehl says, the only function they have is protecting... the parked cars.

Ljubljana Bicycle Life_23
Here are some Citizen Cyclists heading home on a stretch of it in the early afternoon. Squint your eyes and you're heading out of Copenhagen along one of the motorways. Style Over Speed. The bicycle is quick and convenient and that lets you ride in style.

Amazing. Since then a few of the cycle tracks have been removed and the city has been struggling with connecting the network. They've been at 10% for a few years, not least since independence. Slovenia also has higher car ownership rates than Germany. Urban planners started to think car as opposed to bike over the last decade.

But what a legacy. Cycle tracks since the early 1970's. With a bit of vision and dedication, the established mainstream bicycle culture in the city can easily move towards 15%-20%. If the right choices are taken.

A new bike share programme has been established this year, and is a whopping success.
Ljubljana Bicycle Life_10 (2)

A bike box (pleasingly on the stretch that featured the Monumental Motion exhibition) is in place
Ljubljana Cycle Chic_64
There is even a pre-green for bicycles at this intersection.

Ljubljana Bicycle Life_4 (2)
There are loads of bicycle traffic lights already, which is a brilliant sign.

Ljubljana Bicycle Life_18 Ljubljana Bicycle Life_16
Newer developments feature infrastructure bicycle infrastructure, as well.

Ljubljana Bicycle Life_9
There are still glitches along the way. Great bollards separating the motorised traffic from the bicycles, but then cyclists are forced to stop as cars swoop to the right unencumbered. A traffic light for the motor vehicles, forcing them to stop - since the the drivers will otherwise look left for cars as they merge, instead of at the cyclists on the right - and one for the bicycles and that problem is fixed.

In a number of spots bike lanes lead towards a bridge and then disappear, while cars speed along at 50 or 60 km/h. Cyclists I saw just rode on the sidewalk. As we know, the majority of cyclists been 'naughty' do so because of sub-standard (or total lack of) sensible infrastructure.

It was a pleasure to be in the city and meet so many like-minded people. I reminded them not only to look at the negatives - the problem spots - but to remember the positives. It's a city that is lightyears ahead because of visionary planning forty years ago. Capitalizing on the positives will only serve to speed the journey towards a more complete, more effective network of bicycle infrastructure. Constant focusing on the negatives in discussion with city planners and politicians will only end up sounding irritating. This city has so much going for it. Getting to the next level - with the right tailwind - will be easy.

Ljubljana Cycle Chic_77
Thanks to Janez, from the City of Ljubljana and everyone else for their fantastic hospitality.


Anonymous said...

And don't forget the beer - Union & Lasko. Made riding through Slovenia even better!

buy mobile phones said...

wow what an beautiful place for cycle lovers, i will visit this place very soon

domotion2011 said...

Voice of America! This comment from Minneapolis. Our fair city has been touted as one of the top in the US. LOL comment about parked cars and where the bike lane should be. When lanes are between curb and parked cars the bike rider is vulnerable to right turning cars because the drivers line of sight is obstructed by the parked cars. A painted strip lane between flowing car traffic and parked cars is better. What seems to be at issue is that traffic in US cities is traveling at higher speed limits, 30 mph and if bike riding is going to get a leg up as transportation then street speeds need to be lowered. How much lower is debatable but this writer thinks city street limits should top out at 20 mph. Then we can start sorting out infastructure as growing demand calls for it.

Branko Collin said...

The iron dividers, the potholes, the cycling on the sidewalks of quiet streets...

... if they really, really, really put their mind to it, unflinchingly dedicated, and work as hard at it as they can, this is the sort of cycling infrastructure the UK could have.

Branko Collin said...

"When lanes are between curb and parked cars the bike rider is vulnerable to right turning cars because the drivers line of sight is obstructed by the parked cars."

Where I am from it is illegal to park a car closer than five metres from an intersection. How does that work in the USA. It seems strange that you would wilfully design roads to be as dangerous as possible to cyclists.

Anonymous said...

Ljubljana is really a pretty nice city with friendly people, but cycling there seems to be horrible for me. There are dangerous, bumpy, much too narrow and complicated bike lanes everywhere even in small lanes with almost no traffic. Cyclists anoy and even endanger pedestrians all the time in the city centre by rushing much too fast over the pavement, which is not astonishing, because, if you adjust your speed correctly to the bike lanes, you can not go faster than 6km/h which is not appropriate for cycling. I have never seen such an "infrastructure" before. Whil the country is in principle quite dynamical and progressive, the cycling issue got stuck somewhere in the 1970's.

Anonymous said...

In Prague, Czech Republic we also tend to paint the bike lanes left from parked cars, not to the curb. And there are very good reasons to do so.

1) There are lot of drivers who don't respect the lanes. The park there temporarily while shopping or visiting friends. If someone blocks the lane on the left, you can still ride with the cars. But if the lane was on the right, the bikers would need to lift the bike to the pavement and continue there.

2) The same applies to opening parked car doors. If car driver suddenly opens the door, you can still use the car lane. With right hand side lanes you have no space to escape.

3) The citi does not consider bikelanes to be worth winter cleaning. Bike lane on the left has a chance to be cleaned from snow while cleaning the car lane. Separated lane would be cleaned once or twice per year.

You should bear in mind how different is to design infrastructure in citi with 20-50% bicycle share and in citi with 2-7%. When it is simply not possible to built Copenhagen-like infrastructure, it's much better to paint the left lanes that to do nothing or tell the bikers to use the pavement and walk the bike on every crossing (I'm not joking, this is what we have on many cycle tracks).