Once a fairly rare species in towns and cities, cyclists are increasingly common in the Czech Republic even in cities and hilly areas where the habitat is not so welcoming. Proposed changes in the law from the Ministry of Transport are now looking to give them higher priority with their own cycle roads in some city centres and help fill in the gaps between existing cycle routes.
Cyclists in the Czech Republic used to get a raw deal and were largely seen as a nuisance by car drivers and ignored by town and city councils. But the picture has evolved over the last decade and the two wheels good four wheels bad philosophy has now made significant headway in town halls and even the Ministry of Transport.
Proof of that change came Monday with a raft of changes proposed by the transport ministry recognizing the increasing number of regular not recreational cyclists and aiming to encourage even more in towns and cities by providing better and safer facilities.
One of the flagship measures being proposed is for cyclists to be given priority on some roads in town and city centres by designating them as cycle streets. Here the usual roles would be reversed and it would be the car drivers who are the guest users and the cyclists who would be kings of the road or street.
Already common in Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands, cycle streets would allow cyclists to ride two abreast and cars would face a 20 kilometre speed limit. They would primarily be sited in narrow city centre streets which are relatively little used by cars and already favoured routes for cyclists.
Deputy Minister of Transport Tomas Coček explained that the broad aim is to take the status quo situation and give cyclists greater rights and ensure cars drivers act more responsibly: “This is just one measure. It’s a measure aimed at a certain types of routes in the centre of towns which are narrow and where they is already a strong volume of cycles and cars going through quite slowly now and then. It is a move to in some way legalize the situation as it is but it also seeks to make car drivers more responsible as regards the cyclists.”
Another proposed measure would pave the way for cycle paths in narrow town and city streets where there is currently not enough room for cycles and wide vehicles, such as buses and lorries, together. Wide vehicles would be allowed but cyclists would be given priority.
In Prague, not always welcome terrain for cyclists with its hills and valleys, it’s estimated that the number of cyclists has increased sevenfold since 2002 with the number now totaling just under half a million. However, many of these are still sporadic cyclists and do not have the courage to venture out more than once of twice a month.
For Jaroslav Mach, head of transport coordination section at Prague City Hall, one of the main advantages of the proposed changes from the transport ministry will be the opportunity to make changes to traffic rules in favour of cyclists which are not possible or extremely difficult now. These could allow cyclists to ignore one ways on some routes, give them better protection where cycle paths cross or meet normal roads and allow other traffic changes which protect and encourage two wheeled traffic.
The ministry's changes should go to parliament in September with a fairly clear run expected,
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