Sustainable Cities™

Budapest: Cyclist numbers double

Cycling culture is flourishing in the streets of the Hungarian capital Budapest. The city's inhabitants use bicycles as a means of transport to school and work, and the number of cyclists has doubled over the last two years. Racer, granny and carrier bikes fill the streets and emphasise Budapest's reputation as one of the most cycling-friendly cities in Eastern Europe. By means of peaceful mass demonstrations and mainstreaming initiatives, cyclists and the city council are trying to encourage more inhabitants to join the city's germinating cycling culture.

Nattecyklister i Budapest. Foto venligst udlånt af Mikael Colville-Andersen/Zakka, Flickr

In Budapest, cycling has become a means of transport as well as a leisure pursuit. Cycling accounts for 4% of the city's transport requirements and the number of cyclists is doubling almost year on year. Budapest has long enjoyed a reputation in the region for its strong cycling culture and cycle-friendly city administration, which is doing what it can to encourage cycling. has nominated the Hungarian capital as Eastern Europe's most cycle-friendly city.

The success in getting more cyclists onto the streets of Budapest is due, among many other things, to the city council's efforts to improve facilities and safety for the city's cyclists. In recent years, Budapest City Council has made a determined effort to integrate cycling with the rest of the city's transport system. Many stretches of road now also have cycle tracks, there is an attractive cycle route along the city's parks, there are cycle stands in many parts of the city and passengers on suburban railway trains can also take their bikes along with them. The City Council is continuing to improve conditions.

In Budapest, cyclists, activists and the City Council have focused on mainstreaming urban cycling culture and making the bicycle a common and respected means of transport. Activists and the City Council are directing their efforts to change people's conception of cycling as an aggressive, blinkered activity, as is the case in many other towns and cities. The sub-cultural aspect of cycling needs to be recognised but it is also important for ordinary citizens to be made part of the culture. The aim is to make cycling normal and accepted and to re-establish the bicycle as a respectable means of transport.

Budapest Critical Mass Cycle Chic. Courtesy of Mikael Colville-Andersen/Zakka, Flickr

In order to emphasise the wide appeal of cycling, the Hungarian cyclists' Association, Magyar Kerékpárosklub, has invested in effective attitude-changing campaigns which portray the bike as a quick, easy, comfortable and efficient means of transport. The association is for example promoting cycling as an everyday means of transport for the population at large by using atypical cyclists in advertising to emphasise that everyone can use the bike as a means of transport.

The advance of cycling as a normal means of transport is also reflected in Budapest's cycle demonstrations, so-called 'Critical Mass' demonstrations. Critical Masses in other cities are often characterised by aggression, attitude and sub-cultural protests against an established motoring. In Budapest, however, the events attract thousands of inhabitants who want to promote the everyday use of the bicycle. The demonstrations are never violent; the cyclists stop at red traffic lights and prominent people often take part. For example, Hungarian President László Sólyom has taken part to show his support of cycling in Budapest.

Cycling's opponents

Although there is a generally positive attitude to cycling in Budapest, the increasing prevalence of this means of transport on the streets does have its opponents. In 2009, minor but important changes to the advantage of cyclists were met by protests by the city's car enthusiasts. For example, 70 parking spaces were removed to make way for pedestrians and cyclists and one of the city's main street carriageways was closed to make room for a new cycle track. The organisation EMPAMO (Movement for Humane Parking) started an offensive against cycling Budapest, which it describes as fascistic. However, they have only managed to muster few demonstrating motorists.

Last updated Tuesday, January 21, 2014