Politicians and union leaders are still arguing about the significance and the impact of Thursday’s transportation strike. But in Prague, where nearly all municipal transport came to a standstill, the strike had one unexpected effect – many more people than usual got on their bikes and rode to work. Pro-cycling activists now hope that this could be a defining moment, with Thursday’s necessity eventually becoming the city’s everyday virtue.
The streets of Prague offered an unusual view on Thursday: the trade unions’ strike shut down most public transport services, and tens of thousands of people – up to a 100,000 according to some estimates, took out their bikes and cycled to work.
City Hall have made some effort to make Prague a biker-friendly city but many people are still put off by the density of the traffic in city centre, the lack of storage facilities as well as the notorious aggressiveness of drivers. But Vít Masare, from the Prague-based NGO Auto-Mat that promotes cycling, says that Thursday’s experience could change the way people think of cycling in the capital.
“Those people who had previously certain objections or prejudices against this kind of transport realized that it’s possible in Prague, even in this hilly city with dense traffic and all. They realized that it has many positive aspects – it’s faster, it’s independent, and it’s pretty cool to ride your bike in the morning. It speeds you up, it gives you endorphins…
In Prague and other Czech cities, Thursday’s transportation strike caused no major complications precisely because so many people were expecting the worst, and decided to leave their cars at home. The mayor of Prague, Bohuslav Svoboda appreciated the choice, and joked he wished there was a strike every other day. This could prove crucial for the future development of cycling in Prague, according to Vít Masare from Auto-Mat.
“We believe this will be reflected in the numbers of people with bikes in the streets in the future. But the most important thing is that it should be reflected by the municipal authorities. Until yesterday, the majority of local politicians, not just in Prague but all over the country, did not consider cycling a means of transport, but rather as sport or a leisure activity. But yesterday, they actually realized how the city could work.”
Auto-mat and other NGOs are now planning to ask the authorities in the capital to act and implement several steps that would make the city more biker-friendly. They should establish car-free zones at several areas frequently used by bikers, make it easier for firms and public institutions to put up bike racks in front of their buildings, as well as impose a 30 km/h speed limit in the centre of the city.
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