Based on a presentation given during "A vision of car free cities in Central and Eastern Europe" conference in Szeged, Hungary, 5.05.2001.

Motto: "Warsaw is not a village and it is not meant to be cycled through" - Marek Wos, the City Road Management spokesman, April 1998.


Warsaw is a city with 1,7 mln inhabitants, 0,7 mln cars and 1,0 mln bikes. Most of trips are done by public transport (68%) and private cars (30%), only 0,6%-2,0% by bike. Bicycles are perceived as means of recreation, not transport. Main barriers for cycling are:

1. Long distances. Warsaw is quite a big city and poor land-use planning does not help. Most people commute at least 10 km.

2. Lack of cycling paths. The existing "network" consists of 100 km, out of them approx. 60 km are useful, the rest are a few hundreds meters long sections. It covers maybe 10% of all targets, which means that less than 1% of trips can be done on cycling paths. Additionally, the paths are usually of poor quality.

3. Car drivers behave like maniacs. Existing traffic organisation (wide roads, traffic lights programs, lack of traffic calming) encourages fast and dangerous driving. 90% drivers admit violating speed limits.

4. Theft danger. Because the distances are longer, people use better (= more expensive) bicycles than for example in the Netherlands or Denmark. In addition, the wages are lower, thus the bike value equals weekly, sometimes even monthly pay. It makes theft even bigger problem than in the Western Europe. Traditional parking solutions - like bicycle racks - are not good enough.

5. Cycling is perceived as a sport or recreation activity, thus involves sweating and getting dirty. Since most people consider it impossible to cycle and stay tidy, they do not even think of cycling to work.

There are also circumstances favourable for cycling. Warsaw is a flat city. Contrary to popular belief, weather is not a big problem: only 5% of school pupils and 2% of active cyclists say that rain, wind or snow prevents them from cycling. Half of people own a bike and most of people cycle from time to time. There are more than 70 bike shops with rich assortment, usually accompanied by professional repair shops.

The promotion of cycling is an important issue for environmental organisations in Warsaw. Our cycling campaign addresses two main target groups: officials and commuters. We try to convince our authorities to create better conditions for cycling, build paths and parking facilities. At the same time we encourage people to cycle more often - and use the bike not only for recreation, but also for commuting.


The first significant success of our campaign was the "Cycling Act", passed by the City Council in June 1996. It included three points:

1. city administration is obliged to create conditions for cycling

2. all newly built and modernised roads should include cycling facilities

3. points 1 and 2 should be implemented in consultation with the representatives of cyclists

In April 1997 two more points supplemented the aforementioned act:

4. a draft project for 709 km of cycling paths network was accepted

5. pilot project was launched - 17 km network for students

Those five points together form a reasonable cycling policy. We want to improve the conditions for cycling (1), we know what the target is (4), and we make the most of good opportunities (2). Point (3) helps to ensure the right quality and point (5) is a good way to see the results quickly and eventually verify the policy.

The problem is that this policy has been hardly followed at all.

The student network was supposed to connect different faculties of university and student hostels with 17 km of cycling paths, lanes and roads with calmed traffic. Several faculties set up cycling racks. Students of technical university prepared detailed projects for the paths and the total cost was estimated to 500 000 Euro. Now the network, after having been intensively implemented for 4 years, counts... 800 meters. At this rate, we can expect this pilot project to be completed in the year 2082 (twenty eighty-two).

There were 33 major road investments between 1997-2000, out of them 4 were equipped with a cycling path, 8 were partially equipped and 21 were completed without any facilities for cycling. Out of the total length of 42,0 km of new roads, only 14,1 km (34%) was equipped with a cycling path.


Despite of the "Cycling Act", there were no consultations with the cyclists. During the Earth Day '99 (25.04.1999) over 1000 signatures were collected under a petition demanding setting up a committee supervising the road and cycling investments and better execution of the "Cycling Act". The petition was answered and on 29.07.1999 the Committee met for the first time.

Different organisations and institutions participated in the work of the Committee: "Zielone Mazowsze" (Green Mazovia) Association, "Friendly City" Association, Polish Tourism Society, a few local cycling clubs, City Road Management, Land Use Planning Department of the City Hall, several district offices... The Committee made recommendations for details of road modernisation projects, priority cycling investments, standards for cycling infrastructure and communal bikes. However, most of them were ignored without any explanation.


Probably the most successful recommendation of the Committee was "Spring 2000". We indicated three cheap cycling routes, total length 90 km, to be completed before spring 2000. The idea was to connect existing strips of cycling paths, using local streets with low traffic volumes, park alleys and wide pavements. Implementation would require repairing the worst sections of surface, lowering a few kerbs, some traffic calming, etc.

December 1999 - proposal officially presented by the Cycling Committee. Two new persons employed in the City Road Management to work on the project.

March/April 2000 - first version of the technical documentation completed. Cost of implementation estimated to 250,000 Euro.

December 2000 - after remarks from the City Road Management and the police another version of the documentation prepared: less traffic calming, more cycling paths, separate traffic lights for cyclists on each crossing (!). Cost of implementation estimated to 1,000,000 Euro.

March 2001 - the three cycling routes became the main part of the Warsaw exposition on the EuroCity fairs.

May 2001 - the signposting begins.

September 2001 - implementation?

Because of the co-operation, we experience a specific form of blackmail. The CRM expects us to be thankful to what they do for us and accept this without any questions. Even when we criticise them for other activities (for example, lack of cycling paths along a new road), CRM considers it treachery and answers with hindering the "Spring 2000" project.


State Railroad Company agreed to our proposal and let the cyclists use a 5-km long technical road, almost car-free and of good quality (asphalt), providing an attractive alternative to a parallel heavy trafficked road. There are more roads like this - built for technical service of water pipes, heating system or anti-flood defences. They are not suitable for normal car traffic - but can be easily adapted for cycling. In most East-European big cities, there are old industrial areas, now unused - interesting cycling shortcuts can be arranged for a very low cost.

Ursynow is a district in the southern Warsaw with 120,000 inhabitants. Every year a little amount of money (0,2% - 0,4% of the district budget) is spent on cycling paths. After 4 years a network of 13 km has been completed, including a cycling path along the whole main street of the district and 3 more km are to be constructed this year. Construction of the paths was accompanied by promotional actions (bicycle rides), often organised in co-operation with non-governmental organisations. The mayor of the district is an active cyclist himself and sometimes cycles to work.


Despite of the low traffic share, there is a strong cycling activism movement in Warsaw. Cycling in Warsaw requires a lot of skill and courage, thus the people who cycle are much more assertive than average. Additionally, when one starts to cycle, he usually is stunned by the amount of absurdities he meets - he simply has to do something about it.

Last 5 years more than 70 bicycle demonstrations have been organised, with the number of participants varying between 60 and 400. Many of them were quite radical - removing cars parked on cycling paths, blocking the main roundabout in Warsaw or occupying the City Hall. Often the actions include also a practical element - painting a new cycling lane, removing a few kerbs, reorganising a crossing... Sometimes it is the only way to enforce a necessary reaction to previously ignored proposal. At least 10% of cycling paths in Warsaw was done during (or directly because of) Green Federation actions.

We publish a cycling bulletin "Kolka Dwa" (3-4 times per year), leaflets, stickers, posters, calendar. We have also started an interactive cycling map project, being created by cyclists for cyclists. The map includes information about bicycle paths, recreational routes, shops, repair shops and dangerous places. There are also many descriptions of decent non-signed routes and shortcuts.

Apart of rides and publications, cycling promotion in Warsaw includes lectures and workshops in secondary schools. Several photo exhibitions showing the good examples from abroad have also been organised and shown on railway stations, schools, offices and festivals.


The majority of officials have acknowledged the importance of cycling for PR - exposing various cycling projects in folders, press releases, exhibitions and conferences. They still have to learn the importance of cycling for transport and environment, and take real action.

Spending 1% of transport budget on cycling would be enough to complete 700 km of cycling routes in 3-5 years. This would create a network reaching most of possible trip targets.

People are ready for it. There are a lot of people, who would like to cycle more often - if the conditions improve. Additionally, even people who do not cycle and do not intend to cycle support priority for cycling. We estimate that better infrastructure could raise the share of cycling in the modal split up to 5-10%.

Cycling can also be an attractive way to get youth involved in civil activity. Many people came to our organisation just because they were keen on cycling, and soon they started to get interested also in other environmental or human rights issues.