Cycling infrastructure in Poland

Poland has little tradition of cycling infrastructure in cities. Except few examples (most notably cities of Nowe Tychy built in the 70's and Nowa Huta built in the 50's), no cycling infrastructure has ever been constructed. In case of Nowa Huta, cycleways have never been used as planned. At first, Nowa Huta's wide streets were void of cars and pretty safe for cyclists. When cars became popular, they simply occupied the cycleways as parking places. There has been little room for bicycles - and little need for bicycles, in fact. Under the communist rule and economy, it was the cheap public transport that dominated in large cities. Another factor was scarce supply of bicycles and their very low quality at the time. The bicycle was widely seen as extravaganza, sport - or just poor's man transport. On the other hand, cycling has been popular in the countryside and in small cities, where no public transport could meet everyday needs and where cars have been too expensive.

The fall of communism in 1989 and following economic transformation revolutionized the cities in Poland. Cars became more affordable and public transport, once cheap and dominating, turned out underfinanced, old, crowded, slow and inefficient. No wonder people were enthusiastic to switch to cars. However, the communist era road system was worn out and insufficient to accomodate the new influx of cars. Traffic jams became nightmare, air pollution and car accidents soared. There seemed to be no solution to the problem, as cities' budgets strained beyond imagination. This situation roughly has remained the same until now.

There were some enlightened ideas for promoting cycling in Polish cities, though. In 1987, Polish Ecological Club (branch of Friends of the Earth International and mother organisation for Cities for Bicycles) organised first No Car Day and became one of the most vocal advocates for cycling. In 1993, the city of Cracow devised its transport policy that included contstruction of cycleways. In the 90's, several cities in Poland built some cycling facilities, but the results have been bleak. In most cases, users' opinion is that money spent on cycling roads have been wasted due to calamitious design and often even flawed location of the facilities. The most successful examples of the 90's cycleways in Poland include the seacoast cycleway in Gdańsk, riverbank routes in Warsaw and Cracow and few other. Total length of cycleways in Poland is said to be between 400 and 1000 kms (actual figures are not available). However the vast majority of cycleways is poor quality if not unusable due to faulty design and construction.

In 2002, the first contra-flow lanes in Poland were opened in Cracow, igniting local drivers' uproar and fierce political battle - but have remained in place and now seem to be quite a succesful novelty. Very small roundabouts attracted less attention or uproar, while seem to be the equally good - if slightly spin-off - cycling facility (they never been meant to facilitate cycling, but they indeed do, as cyclist avoid dangerous left turns). Other traffic calming policies in Poland are problematic, as road signs are not obeyed and standards for speed humps are debilitating: many drivers are able to drive through the humps at 60 km/h without noticing the speed control facility and other speed humps are very dangerous for both drivers and cyclists.

Gdańsk is the fist city in Poland that introduced its own standards for cycling facilities in 1999, and newer bicycle roads in Gdańsk are pretty good. Gdańsk is currently implementing its cycling infrastructure program funded by Global Environment Facility and is going to be the first large city in Poland to have a complete core cycling network by 2005.

Krakow followed the Gdańsk example. The city now has a Master Plan that says that in long term 100% of travel sources and destinations must be accessible by bicycle and that the integrated bicycle system will include traffic calmed streets, small roundabouts, segregated facilities. The detailed Bicycle Master Plan was developed too, along with a feasibility study and Cycling Infrastructure Standards to be met in design and construction work. Cracow is also the first city in Poland to implement the Bicycle Audit procedure: all road investment and renovation works must be checked to see if cycling is not impeded as the result of the proposed work and if there are chances to improve conditions for cycling at no additional cost. The cycling issues are dealt with by the Cycling Task Force created by the Mayor of Cracow. The task force includes bicycle user groups, experts and city officials and is presided by the Deputy Mayor. Cracow is now trying to get funding for the cycling infrastructure from the European Union regional development funds.

The Cycling Infrastructure Standards, Bicycle Audit, Cycling Task Force and cycling Master Plan are the key issues proposed by the Cities for Bicycles advocacy and consulting group. They make up a "cycling package" that can be implemented by any local authority in co-operation with local bicycle user groups. Cycling Task Forces have been set up in a number of cities recently, including Wrocław, Poznań, Przemyśl and Opole. (Return here to read more on "cycling package" in late February).

Cities for bicycles network defines the problems with cycling infrastructure in Poland as following:
Cities for bicycles strategy now focuses on:
In 1999, Cities for Bicycles issued the Polish language version of the famous "Sign up For The Bike" manual from the Dutch CROW technical organization. When looking for inspiration for your cycling plans, have a look at the Danish Road Directorate publication freely available on the web (*.pdf files) - "Collection of Cycle Concepts".
We will keep you updated on what is going on in Poland.