Biking In The City: The Madness & The Beauty

Commuting in Prague is like diving into a cold swimming pool. Read on to find out why.

My friend and fellow cyclist David Murphy takes over the Bike Blog today as he writes about the Bike To Work competition:

I’ve begun to appreciate the madness and beauty of cycling in downtown Prague.

Until now, I’ve avoided as much as possible diving in among the Audis, Škodas, garbage trucks, taxis and other tens of thousands of vehicles that clog Prague’s streets every day, instead seeking out quieter, off-the-beaten-track routes around the city.

But all that changed after my organization, the Environmental Partnership, entered a monthlong competition, Bike To Work, organized by the NGO Auto*mat, and sponsored by, among others, the Environmental Partnership.

The goal is to promote the bike as a means of everyday mobility and prove to city officials that the investments in infrastructure, education and promotion are worthwhile and too little.

I usually commute to work by bike a few times per week, but since the contest started (it runs from April 28 to May 28), I have become an everyday commuter.

Riding through traffic at the Charles Bridge. One of the worst sections in the city.

The contest works like this: Companies are encouraged to put together and register teams of up to five members, who choose a route to work and declare the distance in kilometers from their home (giving at least the street) to their office (address). Contestants submit the number of times that they make the commute (on the honor system).

Each contestant is allowed up to an additional 10 kilometers per day for business meetings or other business-related activities that they travel to by bike. In my case, I ride to school with my children before or after work.

My declared round-trip commute is 26 kilometers from Kobylisy to Strašnice.

My main route comprises dirt trails and small streets (above and below).

The contest is divided between individual leaders and team results, with prizes ranging from an all-paid weekend for two in Copenhagen, the mecca of European cycling, to tickets to the Prague City Festival, to new bicycles.

In this, the inaugural year of the contest, it has attracted 266 teams, including the Office of the Government of the Czech Republic, the Danish Embassy, the Czech National Bank (they have seven teams entered), and nearly 1,000 individuals.

Rest assured that in the cycling world in Prague, democracy is alive and well, as even though we are sponsoring the event we get no special treatment and currently have a tentative hold on 81st place.

So far, Tesco Stores is in the lead with an impressive 3,220 commuter kilometers ridden. Clearly, team members don’t need to use bikes purchased at Tesco.

Prague by bike is a great experience.

I started with my usual route from Kobylisy through Vršovice on Europe’s Most Expensive Cycle Route, through Malešice to Strašnice. But after a week I got bored.

My next route was through Stromovka into the center, up Wenceslas Square, past Muzeum into Vinohrady and down into Strašnice.

Riding up Wenceslas Square early in the morning.

My latest route is down through Karlin along the river to Vyton and then into Nusle to the Slavia stadium and into Strašnice.

The cycle route through Karlin.

Each route offers a different Prague experience. This morning I had a quick breakfast at the farmer’s market at Kubanske namesti (one of the best in Prague). Yesterday, I pedaled down Wenceslas Square and through Old Town, deftly swerving between the cars and tourists.

Breakfast at the farmers’ market at Kubanske namesti.

There are a growing number of cycle lanes in the city, which do provide a certain level of security. But they are poorly designed, located as they are between the parked cars and the main road, or as cyclist friend, Rob Coalson, likes to call it, “in the door zone."

Despite the lack of really good quality infrastructure, Prague is a relatively good city for biking and more and more people are doing it to get around the city. This morning on my commute, I counted 89 cyclists on the streets. In Copenhagen you could count that many at any given intersection, but Prague has better beer.

No comment

After completing the second week and 350 commuter kilometers, I offer the following observations on everyday biking in Prague:

-- On some of the major roads downtown, horse carriages provide an excellent equine shield from cars, as even the most aggressive drivers appear reluctant to hit and kill a horse.

My horse-human shield.

-- Everyday commuting along the same route can be boring and I have started to vary my route and explore more routes through the city.

A bike box on Vinohradska designed to give cyclists a free space ahead of cars.

-- Cycling allows you to see much more detail in the city-scape as well as find new interesting pubs, restaurants and cafes.

-- I think most drivers should be happy with the new cycle lanes being created around Prague as many use them as temporary double parking spaces. One of the worst cycle lanes for this in Prague is Vinohradska between Flora and Želivského.

-- Audi drivers earn their reputation as the most aggressive; always stay clear of an Audi.

Commuting in Prague is like diving into a cold swimming pool. Once you’re in, you find that the water isn’t that bad, but building up the courage to jump takes some effort.

Length of rides: 26-30 kilometers
Distance ridden so far in 2011: 790 km

Resources for cycling in Prague and the Czech Republic:

-- Prague By Bike
-- Prague Online Cycle Map
-- Cykloserver
-- Cycling Prague (official page of City Hall, in English)
-- Cycling

My 6-year-old son Liam tried my route when we went to the farmers’ market at Kubanske namesti, very close to my office.

Sign-posting for everyday cyclists to get from one part of the city to another is still weak in Prague, except in tourist destinations.

Setting up the farmers’ market at Na Plavce at the river.

The sign reads “Cyclists Please Ride Through Here Carefully."

Nuselsky Most

A tram at the end stop in Stromovka with the cryptic message, “No Turning Back II”


LBJ said…
Prague looks so beautiful - you are lucky if that is your commute! I did some travelling in Europe last summer with my Montague folding bike but not in Prague at all. Next time I do some bike travelling, I'll have to check it out.
Anonymous said…
On the Charles Bridge photo, I think I would have preferred to walk the bike through the enclosed space that I call the "tunnel of misery" where all the tacky souvenir shops run parallel to the road rather than risk the road.

Grant Podelco said…
The "tunnel of misery" has its own dangers!
Two thumbs for the companies that came up with this cycling competition! :) Prague is also a perfect choice for the said event. Thanks for writing about your experience in this cycling contest.

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