At Velo-city2013 conference in Vienna, representatives of an NGO talked about Shkodra in Albania being THE cycling city in the Balkans, with a mode share of cycling of around 30 %. Back in 2013 I was wondering, whether Shkodra really is a unique case in the Balkans. Given the low average income rates in these countries compared to very high fuel costs and a lack of public transportation, cycling seemed a logical compromise in small cities or villages.
However, I was proven wrong. During a study trip with students from various universities in the Balkans and from the Vienna University of Technology, we travelled to several locations in the border region between Kosova, Macedonia and Albania. Our study group visited different Universities and Planning institutions, trying to get an overview of topics and priorities of spatial planning in the region. The Balkans are so close to Western Europe but it goes without saying, that challenges and developments for planning are different ones.
The issue of mobility is a big elephant in the room that everyone sees, but no one mentions. Transportation in the Balkans mainly focuses around motorized traffic, especially cars are an extremely important status symbols.
After years of war and other tragedies, cities and places in the Balkans have been rebuilt but it seems as no one is thinking of the ‘spaces in between’. In Pristina for instance many streets are unwanted shared spaces as cars park and drive everywhere and at the same time, people walk where they want and are respected by drivers, as there are no designated spaces each road user could call his or her own.
The big question mark in the different villages and cities we have visited were the bicycles. Where were they? Why don’t you see people riding around the villages on bikes? Distances to services, shops or visiting friends are perfect for cycling. The cities are lacking good public transportation, why don’t the people get on bikes? Maybe bicycles are a seldom good or quite expensive to buy. The only people to be seen on bikes were men, children or people using the bicycle as a popcorn machine or as other practical support.
Here are a few impressions (I wish I had more):
bicycle popcorn machine, Durrës, Albania
bicycle chair, Gjakova, Kosova
bicycle chic? Gjakova, Kosova
bicycle fishing, Durrës, Albania