Light At The End Of The Tunnel For Prague Cyclists

Liam in hard hat and vest in front of the entrance to the new tunnel.

Today, a guest post from my cycling buddy David Murphy, director of the Environmental Partnership for Sustainable Development and frontman of the popular David Murphy Band.

Bike tunnels are not that rare in Western Europe, especially in countries like Spain where the “Vias Verdes” (Green Ways) are built largely on former railways. In fact, the Basque city of San Sebastian boasts the world’s longest bike tunnel at 850 meters.

Now Prague will have its own bike tunnel to brag about at 350 meters long, going under the iconic Žižkov monument on top of the Vítkov hill. Eventually, the stretch will link Prague 8 and 9 to the main train station, making the station accessible by bike. There will also be bike storage and stands installed at the station.

The old Vitkov tunnel, before the project began.

Currently, the cycle path starts at the tram stop Krejcárek and runs for 3 kilometers through to Seifertova Street behind the main train station. The big plan is to link the main train station with the Liben and Vrsovice train stations with the A25 cycle path. Hopefully in my lifetime.

I went with my 5-year-old son Liam to the “grand unopening” ceremony hosted by Prague Mayor Pavel Bem last week to see what it was all about and get free stuff from the city. The whole cycle path will be opened in September 2010, but the celebration marked the handover of the tunnel from Subterra to the City of Prague.

Liam walking through the new tunnel.

The free stuff was great. We got a tree (yes, a real tree), two raincoats (which would come in very handy about an hour later), a Prague T-shirt, loads of brochures and maps about cycling and other sports in Prague, including where to climb, swim, and inline skate.

We also entered some obstacle-course races to try to win a Specialized mountain bike, an eco-scooter, and a kid’s bike (unsuccessfully).

But the tunnel -- the tunnel was very, very cool.

We donned our bright yellow hard hats and orange vests that were provided by burly but friendly construction workers and walked the 350 meters of the S-shaped tunnel.

Hard hats are distributed.

There are two cycle lanes of smooth asphalt bordered by packed gravel. The walls of the tunnel are painted a cream color and there are overhead lights every 20 meters or so. It will be sandwiched between two stretches of professionally constructed asphalt cycle paths just like the “most expensive cycle path in Europe."

A closeup of the asphalt.

I don’t have any figures for this path, but judging from the tunnel it must be pretty expensive, as well.

About an hour into the event, the VIP guests arrived on bikes, headed by Bem, just as the skies darkened and the wind picked up. A few minutes later, the heavens opened up and a massive thunderstorm blew in and knocked over most of the stands and information posters set up along the trail.

We broke out our brand new City of Prague raincoats and tried to wait out the rain, taking shelter under a collapsing tent. Eventually, we made our way back along the trail in the pouring rain to the tram stop.

A massive thunderstorm blew in and cut the festivities short.

The town hall plans to invest about 3 million Czech crowns (around $145,000) to install an additional 1,200 bike stands in the city to improve safety and convenience for cyclists. They also plan to mark an additional 89 kilometers of new cycle routes in 2010.

Prague is no Copenhagen or Vienna by a long shot, but it’s nice to see some small signs of change for the better.

The only way to improve the safety of cyclists on the city’s streets is to increase the number of cyclists, and the only way to do that is to give them more space.

For complete official information about cycling in Prague, go to this link.

I am definitely looking forward to riding this trail when it opens.

Length of ride: 0 kilometers
Average speed: 0 kph
Maximum speed: 0 kph
Time on the bike: 0
Pivo Index: 0
Distance ridden so far in 2010: 1,821 kilometers


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