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The trials of cycling in bike-hostile Moscow

By Nataliya Vasilyeva

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 10 2012 1:21 a.m. MDT

My 10-kilometer (6-mile) route takes me through some of the city's greenest and most picturesque areas -- leafy Sparrow Hills and the park near Moscow State University. But some parts of my route are unpleasant in a bizarre way. I still can't grasp why a pole with a road sign had to be placed right in the middle of a sidewalk, on a cement slap so large that I have to squeeze through every time I ride by.

And there are other small inconveniences, like steep and uneven curbs, which also have me hopping on and off my bike -- and are a nightmare for the handicapped. The city has made some progress in recent years making the sidewalks more wheelchair-friendly. Even so, it is not uncommon for an embankment to end suddenly with a flight of stairs.

The AP Moscow bureau is inside a sprawling compound that houses the offices of scores of foreign media organizations as well as apartments for journalists and diplomats. Still, there's only one bike rack for the entire compound, so I normally leave my bike chained to a railing, which is more or less safe because of video surveillance.

The Kremlin, apparently, is no better equipped.

When Masha Gessen, a prominent journalist, had a meeting with President Vladimir Putin in September, his staff told her there was nowhere to park her bike inside the Kremlin, so she had to leave it chained up at a bus stop nearby.

Desperate to do something to ease Moscow's traffic congestion, city authorities hope that cycling can be part of the solution. Muscovites own about 3 million bikes, but few use them as a means of transportation, according to a recent report.

In the next four years, the city plans to increase the number of bike paths to 72 and the number of bike racks to 17,000.

The city expects the bike paths to help increase the average speed of cycling to 15.5 kilometers (9 miles) per hour and the share of those cycling to work from 0.01 percent to 1.2 percent by next year. For the city of 12 million, that would be 144,000 people.

While supportive of the city plans, cycling activist Kumov remains skeptical, largely because many of the paths are going to be built in parks, thus chiefly to promote cycling as recreation and not as a means of transport.

"The way the plan looks now will probably make little difference," he said.

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