GP: Gdansk Cycling Infrastructure and Promotion Project - Poland PDF Print E-mail

A man on bicycle on a flat road can travel four times faster than a pedestrian using the same amount of energy. Sounds dull? Then imagine a pedestrian and a cyclist starting from the same point. In fifteen minutes the cyclist will be four kilometres away while pedestrian will be only one kilometer away. Which means the latter might have accessed any of the points scattered on area of three square kilometres while the cyclist could have reached any destination in the area of more than fifty square kilometres or sixteen times larger! And the difference does not involve any extra energy spending, pollution, noise or land occupation.
This shows the enormous potential the bicycle has for the cities, their inhabitants and the environment. Sadly, in Poland cycling meets a number of serious obstacles and the government have done very little to change it. In fact, Poland holds probably the worst EU record as far as cycling accidents are concerned: cyclists constitute about 13 percent of all road fatalities. This must be compared with a very low bicycle use in most of the cities and modest in the countryside. Still, in larger cities like Cracow or Gdansk cyclists are more than 10 percent of all accident victims.

The only people who wanted to change this were grass root activists who formed the „Miasta dla rowerów” (Cities for bicycles) network in mid 90’s. The network was a part of environmental
movement, notably the Polish Ecological Club (Friends of the Earth Poland). While most of activities were bicycle demonstrations, media work and public awareness rising, most of the leaders understood that without a tangible infrastructural changes cycling will not be a viable option to most of Poles, especially in cities. However, this seemed completely out of reach, as politicians’ agenda was different and the cycling activists’ impact was very limited. Even worse: the few cycling facilities built occassionally were of such low quality that further discouraged people from cycling.

The Gdansk Way

A very interesting approach was taken by cycling advocacy groups in Gdansk, Obywatelska Liga Ekologiczna (Civic Environmental League). Gdansk is a city in northern Poland at the Baltic Sea coast. Gdansk is a city in northern Poland at the Baltic Sea coast. Inhabited by some 465,000 souls it is a part of “tri–city” conurbation together with smaller cities of Sopot and Gdynia. Its cycling and alternative community is perhaps the most vibrant in Poland. Numerous cycling demonstrations attracted more than thousand people on bikes, impressed local politicians and led to a unique contract between the grass–roots and the local government in the late 90’s.

Gdansk was the first city in Poland to have the Cycling Task Force organized by the Mayor. Gdansk was also the first to have its own bicycle infrastructure design standards, developed by experts from the Technology University of Gdansk with some participation of cycling activists and based on the “Sign Up For The Bike” manual for cycle–friendly infrastructure by the Dutch organization CROW (1993).

As the result of the Task Force work, the Mayor of Gdansk in 1999 set up a team to investigate whether cycling infrastructure could be possibly funded under European Union ISPA program. This was exactly whe Global Environment Facility (GEF) announced its Operational Program 11 — mitigating climate change induced by transport. Cycleway construction projects were eligible.

Gdansk authorities, local cycling community and Cities for Bicycles, aided by Przemek Czajkowski of UNDP Poland, institution representing GEF in the country were quick to make decision: Gdansk will apply for GEF OP11 medium sized grant, not ISPA. The team that immediately started work on the project proposal included Roger Jackowski (OLE Gdansk), Marcin Hyla (Cities for Bicycles - Polish Ecological Club), Przemek Czajkowski (UNDP Poland), Mr. Antoni Szczyt (Municipality of Gdansk), Susan Legro (UNDP Climate Change coordinator for Central Europe) and Cynthia Page (UNDP Headquarters). The draft proposal was ready in September 2000, the formal submission procedures were completed in December 2000. In May 2001, the GEF decision was positive: Gdansk got the funding.

It turned out that the Gdansk proposal was the fastest developed and granted medium sized project in GEF history. Almost all proposal work was done by the NGO community with the consent of the Gdansk government, this allowed for extra speed but later turned out to be reason for trouble, too.

The Gdansk Project Details

Gdansk Project was about three things:
* Construction of 30.7 km segregated facilities and calming traffic on 70 km of existing streets (see the map of segregated facilities to the right)
* Public awareness raising and public participation campaign in Gdansk
* Know-how dissemination and project replication

The long term goal is to increase bicycle use in Gdansk to 5-10% of all trips (currently near 1-2%) and in this way, control the motorized transport induced emissions of greenhouse gases by 250,000 tons in 15 years. The 5-10% figure is similar to the cycling levels in cities in southern Sweden, just across the Baltic Sea. It seems feasible, judging from the polls commissioned by the Miasta dla rowerów from polling and market research companies (TNS OBOP and BBS Obserwator). And there apparently is a vast pent-up demand for cycling in cities as every fourth person expresses readiness to cycle to work. Most people interviewed by those research groups quote lack of cycling facilities as primary reason they do not cycle.

The segregated facilities were selected following a multi-criterional analysis that included the present journey matrix for Gdansk, bottleneck analysis, technical feasibility analysis and cost analysis. The cycleways to be built concentrate along the main transport corridors in Gdansk and can easily be continued into the cities of Sopot and Gdynia. There is a good integration with the urban rail system. The hilly Upper Terrace part of Gdansk has been scrapped, as it is not so densely populated, there are steep hills and segregated cycleways would have to be very long and expensive to build and fewer people would use them.

Segregated facilities were considered appropriate for a number of reasons:
* Speed limits in Poland in urban areas are higher than in other European countries and drivers are notorious with speeding
* Severe winters make road maintenance difficult and snow often is ploughed away onto the part of the road used by cyclists
* The core network is located along main streets with few junctions, so bi-directional facilities on both sides of street make many bicycle journeys faster and more smooth, as many cyclists do not need to cross the street and to wait for the green light to follow the bike path in the appropriate direction

The awareness raising and public participation campaign is self-explanatory. It included a number of public meetings, demonstrations and media work. An important part of the project is quality control and public participation, including users' representation. This was primarily consulting the design and construction process to make sure Desgin Standards requirements are met. This work was performed by Civic Environmental League, a local NGO.

The know-how dissemination and project replication included bulletin production and distribution, workshops for local authorities across Poland and consulting. Thirteen workshops have been completed and proposals for cycling infrastructure funding were prepared and submitted by the Municipality of Krakow, other cities following. This component was carried out by the Polish Ecological Club (friends of the Earth Poland).

The Municipality of Gdansk was responsible for the design and construction of cycleways.

The total budget of the project was 2,591,587 US dollars, including a 1,000,000 dollar grant from GEF, a 1,564,000 dollar contribution by the Municipality of Gdansk and a 27,587 dollar input by the National Board of the Polish Ecological Club.

The Project Implementation

The Gdansk project Executing Agency was the Ministry of Environment and involved three separate Implementing Agencies: Municipality of Gdansk, Civic Environmental League and Polish Ecological Club. The implementation of the project was much delayed for a number of reasons. One of them was a „culture clash” between partner organizations. The project proposal was developed by the NGO’s outside the local government and its details turned out to be not clear to the city officials.There were conflicts between the city officials and the NGO community regarding the quality of the designed infrastructure as well as cost eligibility of works commissioned by the Municipality that did not rely directly to the project goals.

Unfortunately, the delays in design and construction works coincided with unfavourable factors unforeseeable when the project was developed. The US dollar exchange rate (the project currency) fell sharply against Polish Zloty and the project budget shrunk by a quarter. Value Added Tax rate for construction works rose, which had impact on cash flow. And the growing construction boom caused prices to soar.

Another problem turned out to be the bicycle infrastructure surface costs. After first successful pilot implementation, the tenders for construction works specified the cycleway surface course Stone Mastic Asphalt (SMA), a material new in Poland. Initially, the SMA price was only slightly higher than the price of other asphalt surfaces but when tender did not allow for other material, all tendering companies demanded prices four times higher than the alternatives. Those financial issues further delayed the project implementation.

Instead of the initally planned two year implementation period, the project took four years to implement (2002–2006). Instead of 30.7 kilometres of segregated bicycle tracks, ony 17 kilometres were built. However, the Municipality of Gdansk remains committed to completing the initially planned infrastructure with its own financial resources and the total length of cycle facilities now envisaged for construction exceeds 100 kilometres.

The lessons from the project

The project implementation met obstacles of organizational (political) and legal nature. The solution for the first was the Bicycle Package, for the latter - detailed proposals to change law. The Bicycle Package is the blueprint for cycling policy on local level and consists of four elements:

* Planning documents. The city Master Plan must define the major obstacles for cycling, set the target figure of modal share for bicycles, name the main cycle routes and set target of 100% of travel sources and destinations within a city to be accessible by bicycle. A more detailed bicycle infrastructure development strategy is always welcome.

* Design Standards for cycling infrastructure. While conforming with the general engineering and traffic regulations they must incorporate Best Practice and propose quality solutions for bicycle traffic. They must not refer to bicycle tracks and other facilities only but take into account the „invisible infrastructure” for cyclists - facilities not meant directly for bicycles but potentially enhancing cyclists’ safety, comfort and ease of movement.

* Bicycle User Group Consultation Platform (a Cycling Task Force). This is a horizontal structure within the Municipality allowing for fast information flow, including user feedback gathering. The Task Force role is to catalyse decision making that will incorporate bicycle user’s interest and streamline the cycling policy with other policies of the city.

* Bicycle Audit: a procedure to check all infrastructural investment or renovation against the broader cycling policies (the Master Plan and other planning documents and Design Standards) to assure no public expenditure results in worsening the condition for cycling. The other aim of Bicycle Audit is to „piggyback” some cycling investment on other major infrastructural projects by the city, thus making public expenditure more efficient.

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 as the result of the Gdansk Project and attempts to replicate it in other cities.

The legal changes include the proposal to change Poland’s Highway Code to streamline it with the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic (1968) regarding the bicycles, to dismabiguate several articles and to improve several regulations on road engineering to pay more attention to cyclists and their needs. It also turned out that project replication using European Union funding may be impeded by the Government policies on structural funds and proposals for changes in National Development Plan were submitted.

The Project Impact and Results

We see the Gdansk project as a major breakthrough for Poland. This is the first and so far only case in Poland that the grass–root community developed project of this size, got the municipality involved, succeeded in fundraising and co–operated on implementation with the Ministry of Environment and other project partners. The Gdansk project is the first complex cycling activity of local government in Poland that is user–oriented and quality–oriented. The project tangible results were cycleways that offer very high quality and now constitute local Best Practice showcase. Other results include the Public Participation processes and procedures. Cycling Task Forces have been set up and local Design Standards were commissioned by numerous cities across Poland, together with Bicycle Audit procedure proposed as a way to overcome several problems with bicycle policy implementation. And some cities have developed infrastructural proposals to be funded by the EU or other funding sources.

A number of legal and technical issues were discovered or arose during the project. These issues are the current challenge for the grass-root organizations involved in the Gdansk project. In 2005, the Ministry of Transport commissioned the National Cycling Development Plan concept paper from the team who developed the Gdansk project. It is possibly the first time Poland’s national government expressed direct interest in cycling and this creates a potential for future developments.


Urząd Miejski w Gdańsku (Municipality of Gdańsk):
Marek Sojka, Project Manager
Remigiusz Kitlinski, Cycling Officer ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
ul. Nowe Ogrody 8/12 80-803 GDAŃSK
tel. +48.58.3023020
tel. +48.58.3023041
fax. +48.58.3026900

Obywatelska Liga Ekologiczna:
Roger Jackowski, Przemek Miler
ul. Zbyszka z Bogdańca 56A 80-419 GDAŃSK
tel./fax +48.58.5201020

Polski Klub Ekologiczny/ Miasta dla rowerów:
(Polish Ecological Club/Cities for Bicycles)
Marcin Hyła
ul. Sławkowska 26A 31-014 KRAKÓW
tel. +48.12.4232074
fax. +48.12.4232098

Ministerstwo Środowiska (Ministry of Environment)
Departament Instrumentów Ochrony Środowiska
dyrektor Wojciech Jaworski
Monika Lesz
ul. Wawelska 52/54 00-922 WARSZAWA
tel. +48.22.5792522
fax. +48.22.5792217

UNDP - United Nations Development Program
Ewelina Pusz, Program Officer
al. Niepodległości 186, 00-608 WARSZAWA
tel. +48.22.8259245
fax. +48.22.8254958
fax. +48.22.8255785

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