Georgia tries hard to go cycling

With its several dozen kilometers of segregated cycling infrastructure Batumi, a Georgian city on the Black Sea coast, seems to be cyclists’ paradise of the Caucasus: very visible bike tracks along the coast and throughout the city center, bike-sharing stations installed in multiple locations. It is a compact city with cycling-friendly landscape and climate. The city of Batumi started to invest in cycling infrastructure together with other grand projects to make this location an attractive and comfortable summer resort. It is fascinating to see how much change has happenned here in less than a decade.

Batumi public bike

Nevertheless, looking attentively into details of the transportation system and cycling infrastructure reveals a lot of lessons to be learnt. It seems that the city invested in proper planning and professional advice. Some presentations of the future cycling infrastructure show that the city was thinking in the right direction. Local government indeed seems trying to cover the city center with the network of cycling infrastructure, however the following issues provide room for improvement:

  • Bike tracks are usually done on the sidewalks. They take sometimes non-existing space away from pedestrians while lanes for cars are mostly kept wide.  For a city full of tourists in summer – this is neither a cyclists nor pedestrian-friendly solution.
  • Red bike tracks are good for making everyone used to cycling infrastructure in the cities with no cycling culture. However, these cycling provisions should also cover intersections.

Cycling provisions in Batumi

  • Narrow streets of the city center can easily be turned into shared space for all users with priority for pedestrians and cyclists. But the cobblestones used to pave the roads are too sharp and uneven for comfortable walking and cycling.
  • No enforcement is in place. Whereas pedestrians will probably stop walking on the bike tracks when number of cyclists will increase, cyclists can do little about cars being parked or driving on the bike tracks. Road safety would be an issue in Batumi in general, though not as bad as in Tbilisi. City center is full of 40 km/h speed limit signs but lack of enforcement and road design of the long straight parts of the street welcome speeding.

Parked cars on bike tracks

  • No directions or bike track signs are installed. Direction signs with distances to landmarks would be of particular help on the New Boulevard (17 km boulevard along the sea coast)
  • So far no public campaigns promoting cycling as daily transport were conducted by the city. It is particularly surprising to see few people using bicycles as daily transport when putting together the compact size of the city (less than 200,000 inhabitants) and the relatively high cost of the public transport comparing to income levels of the local population.

Batumi New Boulevard

Looking into the wider perspectives of cycling in Georgia it is worth mentioning that the country has no regulations or standards for cycling infrastructure. Considering that at least four cities have some cycling projects (Batumi, Kutaisi, Kobuleti and Rustavi) the government should initiate the development of standards for cycling infrastructure. Given that Georgian cities have all the preconditions to become perfect for cycling and walking, there is probably one significant policy component missing – putting interests of pedestrians, children, persons with disabilities and cyclists first when planning urban landscapes.

Text and photos: Ksenia Semenova

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