There were numerous articles circulating since March 2018 about one particularly irrational decision the city of Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, issued concerning the use of two-wheeled vehicles within its centre. Due to the city’s growing problem with swarms of Segway-wielding tourists, choking the narrow historical streets of downtown, a Segway ban took effect in 2016. Street-wise “businessmen”, being robbed of their touristic golden goose, decided to bypass the ban with motorized scooters, which are no less annoying and eye-sore than Segways and hoverboards but, for some reason, fall in the same transport category as plain bicycles. And yes, you guessed it right, another ban followed, this time (literally) driving out the scooters out of certain pedestrianized zones, alongside bicycles.
Markings on the roads appeared overnight, showing a crossed-out bicycle and the numbers 10-17, indicating that bikes are prohibited from entering these particular routes between 10 AM and 5 PM. While the majority of European capitals tries to adjust its infrastructure to encourage more people to saddle up, Prague’s decision obviously caught the attention of various, even abroad media. Just to put things into perspective, only 1 per cent of daily journeys are being made by bike in Prague compared to more than 40 per cent in Copenhagen.
“We are not against cyclists, but the problem is space,” Oldřich Lomecký, mayor of the Prague 1 area in the centre of the city, commented on the matter. “In a pedestrian zone, the advantage should be for pedestrians, not cyclists. Every day there is conflict between cyclists and pedestrians. This is the core of the problem.”
While pedestrian safety is a crucial thing to address, funnily enough, the approximately 1,000 cars, passing through these areas daily, alongside ridiculous cumbersome “beer-bikes”, which are basically mobile bicycle beer gardens operated by multiple people, are still allowed to roam free within the ban zones.
“Data shows there were 21 pedestrians hit by cars over the past 10 years, and only three involved in accidents with bicycles,” said Vratislav Filler of the Czech pro-cycling initiative Auto*Mat, pointing out that the city has 900 cars for every 1,000 inhabitants – more than double the ratio of some comparable western European cities. The decision was publicly criticised by multiple city officials, administrating Prague’s quarters outside the effect of the ban, one even going as far as calling it “stupid”. When asked about why the ban has to include non-motorized bicycles as well, councillors were heard claiming that police are unable to tell the difference.
But it wouldn’t be like Czech cycling activists to leave matters only to vocal criticism. Someone, somewhere, saw the stencilled ban markings on the ground and the famed light bulb appeared over their head. “Oh, that can only mean one thing! Finally, it’s time to take my crossed-out bike for a ride!” And that’s exactly what happened last week on July 19. Through a Facebook event, cyclists of Prague were called to action to express their disagreement with the awkward ban by holding a “Crossed-Out Bicycle Race” through the downtown streets.
Riders were encouraged to “cross-out” their bike at home or with the help of the organizers, either by a tape, a ribbon or to get otherwise creative. Some of the participants also wore a paper cut-out mask of Lomecký over their faces, to point a metaphorical finger at the spokesman of this administrative mess. Unlike traditional races, the winner was the slowest rider who managed to finish the whole route without their feet touching the ground. This way the organizers wanted to show how “dangerous” bikes can be regarding crowded tourist venues and, furthermore, the whole event was properly registered with the city’s authorities. Respectful and hilarious – that’s the kind of protest we can get behind!
UPDATE: The zones were shut down soon after the protest.