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Cycling Culture Emerging in Russian Cities

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In Europe, cycling as a tool for transportation is a so-called trademark of Dutch and Danish cities, which boast some of the most impressive bicycle infrastructure worldwide. What is significant however is that cycling is gaining increasing traction among lesser known European cities as climate conscious consumers continue to scrap private passenger cars in favour of more eco-friendly alternatives. In particular, cycling is emerging as a hot trend in many Russian cities, evidenced by the rapid increase in bicycle ownership rates and bike-sharing platforms that have flooded city streets with pedal power fanatics. Legislation changes, infrastructural developments and public marketing events have helped Russian cities become more bike-friendly; however, challenges still persist as heavy traffic, congestion and unfavourable spatial planning of urban areas hinder further adoption of cycling.

Change in Household Ownership Rate of Bicycles: 2010-2015

Russian Bicycle Ownership Rates

Source: Euromonitor International

Note: Chart refers to weighted-average of major cities of respective countries

Infrastructural and legislation changes spark cycling trend

The inception of the cycling trend has by and large been evident across the vast majority of Russian cities. In the case of Moscow, the trend can be traced back to 2010 when the previous Mayor of Moscow, Sergei Sobyanin, made a pledge to Muscovites to regenerate and renew public spaces. Since then, a succession of events have helped move things forward with the first cycle map having been devised in 2010, the first bike lane having been constructed in 2011 and a ‘Lets Bike It’ parade, which celebrates cycling, having attracted 23,000 riders in 2015, nearly three times more since its inception in 2012. Fast forward to late 2015 and Moscow boasts a bike sharing platform (Velobike) that contains 2,750 bicycles, 150 bike parking stations and 4,000 docking stations, approximately 190km of dedicated bicycle lanes and more bike friendly legislation such as ensuring motorised vehicles give way to cyclists when turning. The local government in Moscow has gone on to even allow bicycles to be transported on public buses and trolleybuses and there are plans later in 2016 to release electric powered trains in Moscow that will have bicycle racks.

The bicycle movement in Russia is of course not limited to Moscow, as other cities are following suit. For example, by the end of 2015, St Petersburg had 150km of bicycle lanes and in 2016, a further US$1.2 million (80 million roubles) will be allocated by the government to cycling infrastructure in the city. A small city of Almetyevsk has plans to build 200km of cycling infrastructure, with 50km already being scheduled for completion in 2016, meanwhile similar infrastructural improvements are being increasingly implemented in other minor cities, such as Kazan and Kaliningrad.

Russia’s Major Cities with Largest Share of Households Owning a Bicycle: 2015

Russian cities bicycles

Source: Euromonitor International

Despite growth of cycling, challenges remain

It is important to note however that the adoption of cycling is still in its infancy across Russian cities. In many Dutch cities such as Amsterdam and Rotterdam, over 90% of households possessed a bicycle in 2015, yet in Russia’s most economically developed city, Moscow, this measure stood at 24%, underpinned by many cultural, climatic and more general infrastructural drawbacks.

Traffic and congestion is one of the biggest put offs for cyclists who deem the roads to be unsafe for bicycle enthusiasts, especially in the larger cities. Take, for example, Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia’s two largest cities: in a 2015 survey by the Dutch Navigation company TomTom, the two cities topped the list for vehicular congestion in Europe and ranked fourth and seventh worldwide, respectively. Climate conditions also hamper the progress of cycling in Russian cities as harsh winters characterised by sub-zero temperatures and significant levels of snowfall more often than not deter bicycle use. Other reasons include people’s perception of bicycles as representing poor lifestyles and the spatial planning of urban areas, with residential districts being located too far away from central venues for work and entertainment, which makes private vehicle or public transport use more convenient.

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