Does Prague really want to ban cycling in the Old Town?
Recently, a report on local politics from Prague caught the interest of international media. It said that cycling had been banned in the city centre. Is this really the case?
The district of Prague 1, which includes the historic Old Town, wants to ban cycling in pedestrian areas. Cyclists are supposed to get off and push.
Years ago Prague’s pedestrian precincts were opened to cyclists, and became an official part of Prague’s network of cycle paths. However, Prague’s local politicians opposed the expansion of cycling infrastructure in the centre at the expense of automotive traffic. By opening up pedestrian streets to bikes, several kilometres of “new” cycle paths were created instantly, without having to set up bike lanes on existing traffic routes. Now, major official bike routes run through pedestrian streets, used by hundreds of bike commuters every day.
Pedestrian zones make up a significant part of the Prague 1 district. For many, a cycling ban in this area means a longer route to work or dangerous detours. That is to say, the Prague 1 district has not come up with safe alternative routes. Its Mayor, Oldřich Lomecký, describes cycling as a leisure activity for strong young men.
It is all the less credible that the local government is concerned with pedestrian safety when the Prague 1 district tolerates numerous cars in pedestrian zones (such as taxis and suppliers, but also a striking number of black limousines). In a video, in half an hour journalist Janek Rubeš counted 33 cars and 40 bikes in a pedestrian zone.
According to statistics from the bike lobby Auto*Mat, between 2007 and 2016 there were three clashes involving pedestrians and cyclists. In the same period, however, there were 22 accidents involving pedestrians and motorists.
The current plans of the Prague 1 district are not a general bike ban in the Old Town, just a banishment of cyclists from pedestrian zones. This does, however, represent a significant change in the already low quality of cycling in Prague. Upcoming municipal elections in autumn 2018 also mean that many politicians are currently banking on populist anti-cyclist rhetoric. Thus, with regard to the situation for cyclists there is currently no improvement on the horizon.