Ana is a bike commuter from Belgrade, Serbia and a member of an independent organization Ulice za bicikliste (Streets for cyclists) advocating for better biking conditions, increasing visibility of cyclists in highly trafficked areas, and promoting bicycles as the best means of transportation.
What got you started riding your bicycle for everyday transportation?
I got tired of waiting for the bus and not to mention standing on a one leg in a pretty crowded one. I’m not that patient when it’s about wasting my time and being stuck in traffic. One day I saw a guy cycling faster than a bus I was in, he was pedaling and smiling, I was frowning and doing nothing. So, I decided to give it a shot. I took it as a challenge, thinking of it as some kind of mission impossible. It was 10 km in one direction, it was hilly Belgrade and it was all pretty unfamiliar. But I survived! I enjoyed it! I blew past the traffic jam and the whole excitement and famous feeling of freedom on a bike got me speechless. That easily I got hooked!
Then I started exploring the cycling world and the reasons for bike commuting simply grew. At the end it was not only about my health and other personal benefits but the ecological piece of puzzle that got me completely trapped! There was simply no way out. 😊
How long have you been bike commuting in Belgrade?
It’s been six years now, but somehow I have a feeling that I’ve been bike commuting my whole life. Almost every day and all the way through winter.
What is the normal commute distance for you in Belgrade?
Around 20 km round trip when I bike to work. But you never know who you’re gonna meet and where you’re gonna end up. It depends on weather, occasions and mood. The more tempting “distractions”, the longer the route.
What kind of bicycle do you use for riding and where did you get it?
A six-speed city bike bought in a bike store in Belgrade. Not an expert in bikes, I chose this one because it was the most comfortable and practical for moving around the city. And it looked so damn pretty. Still totally in love with it!
What’s your favorite piece of bike gear?
Definitely bike panniers. Easily attachable and it is amazing how many things you can put in them. So, going shopping or to the supermarket, work or picnic by bike… not a problem at all! They save your shoulders from wearing heavy backpacks and now you can find them in all sizes and beautiful designs.
Where do you normally park your bike while out and at home?
My building has a small cycling garage where I now keep my bike. But, for a long time it was part of my living room. I didn’t want to keep it out of my sight and it sort of fit perfectly there, even though it took a lot of space.
But when out, yeah, that may be the problem in Belgrade. Bike theft is pretty common and I usually look to keep it somewhere inside if possible. If not, I choose pretty crowded places to leave it locked and hope for the best. 😊
How do you deal with fashion and attire on the bicycle?
Before hopping on my bike, I don’t put on expensive and special bike clothes. Actually, cycling doesn’t affect my everyday style and I’m here to dispel any doubts about sacrificing your own style on a bike. It only depends on a day if I’ll pick up something fashionable and elegant or a bit sporty. So, skirts yes! Dresses yes! As long as it is comfortable, safe and non-disturbing while cycling.
What’s your favorite bike route in Belgrade?
I rarely cycle recreationally so I almost always choose shorter routes where the nicest bicycle lanes are not on my way. But, I favor the area by the river Danube, which is fully covered by new lanes and where you can get engaged with the environment and completely enjoy beautiful nature.
How would you describe the bike culture in Belgrade?
Belgrade is pretty much a car-oriented city with poor bike conditions and a lack of forward-thinking politicians who could change it. Biking through Belgrade still scares and frustrates many people. Mostly because of unsafe and incomplete infrastructure and the idea of cars whizzing by and honking impatiently at you. Belgrade has around 100 km bike lanes and therefore only 1% of all commuters are cyclists.
But nowadays that number is slowly increasing, thanks to many individuals who have decided to take bikes over cars. Many of them want to avoid crazy traffic jams and to do something good for their health and pocket. But also some of them have realized that cycling improves sustainable and environmentally friendly conditions in Belgrade and makes it more livable. One urban biking optimist here knows that every ride is a mini protest against cars, air and noise pollution.
So, it seems that bike culture in Belgrade has been growing a bit faster than infrastructure and it surely is a great way to additionally influence the authorities to support the idea of a greener city and to hear the voice of cyclists.
Aside from those brave individuals, UZB as an organization tries to raise the awareness of cycling benefits for everybody and to encourage more bike commuters.
Tell us something more about Ulice za bicikliste (“Streets for cyclists” in English)?
At Ulice za bicikliste or UZB, we are advocating for sustainable and modern transport solutions where cyclists and pedestrians fit perfectly in that image. We hope to see cycling and walking culture overtake car culture and therefore we are stubborn in demanding changes of urban development policy in order to achieve Belgrade adjusted for people. Our goal is to influence the mindset of both our citizens and authorities. We want to make cycling normal and attractive. We want people to fall in love with cycling!
What kind of work are you doing to see more cycling in Belgrade?
Every last Saturday in a month we organize a group ride Critical Mass which is to get a message across about the importance of being aware of cyclists. These bike rides are entirely driven by regular citizens who simply want better conditions for urban cycling, but at the same time to enjoy and have a lot of fun!
Our street actions
We are especially proud of our many street actions, where some of them gave positive results and changes. A lot of attention took one so called “Tomato action” where we put tomatoes instead of bike lane barriers in order to stop car drivers to park vehicles there. We demonstrated how important it is for a cyclist to have safe bike lanes without any obstacles on his way. After this, authorities started charging fines to the arrogant drivers!
How would it benefit Belgrade if there were more cyclists on the street?
Belgrade streets are definitely not designed for that many cars as we have it. It leads to increased air pollution, congestions and traffic jams. Not much explanation needed to describe that cycling is a solution to all these problems. Additionally, less noise and honking and less nervous people sitting in an endless, slowly moving line of cars would bring a lot of healthier and happier people.
How has the COVID-19 coronavirus changed cycling in Belgrade?
The coronavirus outbreak has made many European authorities rethink urban mobility in their cities and started transforming them into people friendly. They realized that a bicycle was a safe transportation and a perfect tool to minimize the risk of spreading the coronavirus. Unfortunately, we are always one step behind and our government hasn’t used this pandemic situation as an opportunity to start to invest in bicycle infrastructure and better cycling conditions, even though it was not only in favor of cyclists but the whole community. They didn’t follow the example from our neighbors who have been giving over the road space to cyclists and pedestrians and rolling out emergency bike lanes.
Our organization urged the authorities to implement a couple of measures and changes in order to encourage more people to cycle and to give them more space to move around the city in a safer way. Some of our proposals were:
- public transportation lanes to be used by cyclists as well
- allowing to cycle against the direction on one-way streets
- new temporary pop up cycle lanes wherever possible
Editor’s Note: Paris has implemented bus lanes to double as bike lanes and allow contraflow for bicycles with great success.
Nothing was accepted with no explanation.
But, in spite of that, during the Corona period and lockdown a number of cyclists significantly increased, making long lines in front of bicycle stores. A lot of people grabbed their old bikes from the basement taking them to the repair shops or fixing them on their own. This little bicycle boom was maybe kind of a surprise in Belgrade, but people started using bicycles both as a safe means of transportation and for recreation and well mental being during the lockdown. People started to appreciate clean air and less noise and all those things simply resulted in many people embracing cycling during Covid pandemic.
Our hope is that this number will continue growing even after a pandemic and that it would finally make the authorities change the politics of car being so dominant by putting cyclists and pedestrians in the first plan.
What’s the piece of advice you’d give about commuting in Belgrade?
Cyclists to be: give it a chance and don’t be afraid. Don’t stress but plan ahead, be visible and predictable. And just FYI you may become addicted.
Regular cyclists: just keep cycling!
Car drivers: maybe to think harder about their daily life.
Let’s cycle all together and make Belgrade livable, clean and green. But don’t forget to have a lot of fun!