Why is no one cycling in the Balkans?

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):

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bicycle popcorn machine, Durrës, Albania

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bicycle chair, Gjakova, Kosova

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bicycle chic? Gjakova, Kosova

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bicycle fishing, Durrës, Albania

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Sindi on 2015/07/22 at 7:59 pm

    In Albania don’t exist the right infrastructure for biking, and I found it dangerous to bike most of the time. This is because we don’t have dedicated bike lanes, even in the areas where they exist they are used for parking
    Even in Shkodra it’s not that they have the right infrastructure to do this, but this is a kind of tradition in that city, that’s why everyone bikes there.

    Antwort

  2. Very interesting point of view, so good to see things how the look from „the other side“. I still believe It is only a meter of infrastructure, or typography of the site eventually. All of the place mentioned above are small cities with open roads where citizens can use bikes for small distances, but if u take a look a other centers, and u see their overpopulation situation and overloaded traffic, no wonder bikes have no space left to fit in. Prishtina for example, has a very difficult terrain to use bike and there are no paths for bicycles ( except for some that have been added lately) but there are still people that use parks or peripheries fur such activities. If u provide the space, people will use it! I believe it is only a technical problem. If u provide infrastructure, u „invite“ people to switch to bicycles, and later on, it turns into a tradition. Great article, I’d like to hear more impressions 😉

    Antwort

  3. Posted by greta on 2015/07/22 at 11:06 pm

    Bikes were very used in communism in Albania, they were the only thing a person could own. It is kind of a symbol and with the coming of democracy people want what has been denied to them…such are cars. People here don’t want anything that brings the communism memory back and bikes are one of them…we want the future …and by most of the people cars are seen as part of it.

    Antwort

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