Dreams and diplomats on two wheels

23-04-2010

In many European cities these days, the bicycle is a completely normal means of transport. In Copenhagen, for example, well over a third of all journeys are made by bike. This is far from being the case in Prague, where cycling amid the city’s heavy traffic and cobbles can often seem like a dangerous sport. But things are changing. More and more people are cycling to work every morning, and, step by step, politicians and planners are beginning to realise that cyclists deserve their bit of space on the city streets. To draw attention to the needs of cyclists, several hundred people, including the Danish Ambassador, pedalled through the centre of Prague on Thursday evening. David Vaughan quite literally got on his bike to join them.

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK I’m on Jiřího z Poděbrad Square. It’s six o’clock in the evening and in front of me, below the church, there are several hundred people with bicycles ready to start the trip through the centre of Prague. It’s a pretty rare sight here in Prague to see so many people, all at once, on bicycles…

“I’m Michal Křivohlávek from the initiative Auto*Mat. We’re just about to start. This is just the moment when the whole mass starts to flow through the streets and through the city.”

Could you tell me what the idea behind this mass cycle ride through the city is?

“It’s a very simple idea. The bicycle is the most enjoyable vehicle you can enjoy in the city. It’s very practical and it makes you feel happy and be very flexible.”

There are a lot of people in this country who cycle, but normally cycling – especially among people in Prague – tends to be seen as a recreation. Not many people are brave enough to cycle through the traffic in the city centre every day to work.

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK “That’s true. There are as many bicycles in the city as cars but on a work day you see very few cyclists in the streets and really a lot of cars.”

And just in a few words, what do you think needs to be done?

“There has to be some kind of policy to arrange the streets in a sense that people feel safe and comfortable in the streets, so that they will live in the streets and leave their cars behind.”

So now I’m on my bike and we’re on our way, very, very slowly.

“I’m Ole Moesby. I’m the Ambassador of Denmark in the Czech Republic.”

And you’re here, taking part on your bicycle…

“I am indeed. I’ve been invited to be here. I’ve asked my staff and myself, so we are part of this event. And it’s wonderful!”

And the bicycle that you’re on is no typical Prague bike by any stretch of the imagination. Tell me a little bit about it.

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK “It is very typically Danish, because it’s a means of transportation. You can – as I have done here – fill it with bread and papers, and this is what we do. But you can also have your wife, your children, your cello – whatever you need to bring from point A to point B.”

And perhaps I should describe it a bit. It’s not a bicycle, but a tricycle, with two wheels at the front, and with a storage area – a box – at the front as well, and you’re pedalling behind, and the box is absolutely full of bread.

“It’s full of bread, yes… ah, here we go, I think…”

We’re off once again. We were standing at the traffic lights with the Danish Ambassador, and now comes the most fun part of the journey, because we’re all heading down the main four-lane highway that leads right through the middle of Prague. There are no cars at all. They’ve all been stopped, and for a cyclist this is a dream come true. I should imagine that the drivers of the cars that are waiting behind us won’t be too happy, but maybe, just for once, they can wait for the cyclists.

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK If you are in Prague and want to find out more about Danish attempts to make cycling an integral part of the transport system, you can visit an exhibition being held until Sunday 25 April at Drahobejlova 15, Prague 9 (close to Českomoravská metro station). You can also find out more at: www.dreamsonwheels.dk

23-04-2010