Free Bike Schemes See Success
Published: October 3, 2012 (Issue # 1729)
ALEXANDER BELENKY / SPT
A number of volunteer schemes and activist projects are aiming to make it easier — and safer — to get around the city by bike.
Hundreds of bikes that could be used free of charge may grace St. Petersburg’s streets next year, as at least two schemes started by local firms in 2012 are to be extended.
Marina Veselova, coordinator of the FreeBike project run by Velodrive company, said Monday at a roundtable hosted by Vecherny Peterburg newspaper that the scheme had been launched in August. The FreeBike project comprises several dozen bikes that were donated — mostly by Velodrive itself, which has been running a scrap program since 2010 — then repaired, painted blue and supplied with a combination lock that can be opened by entering the code of either 000 or 0000.
The bikes can be taken by anyone wishing to use them from locations such as the Sosnovka, 300-Letiya Sankt-Peterburga or Alexandrovsky parks, Tretye Mesto café on Ulitsa Marata or Loft Project Etagi on Ligovsky Prospekt, and can be left anywhere the rider deems convenient. At least 50 to 100 more free bikes are to be added to the scheme in 2013, Veselova said.
A similar program with the equally similar name of #FreeBike was launched by Skatprokat bike rental center in July, using old bikes donated by members of the public. Skatprokat had about 30 bikes fixed, painted white and equipped with green wheels and black tires, with each one bearing a metal plate saying that it is free to use, Yury Biryukov, coordinator of the #FreeBike project, told The St. Petersburg Times in a phone interview. As donations are now less frequent — albeit no less welcome — his team is now working on repairing bikes at a more leisurely pace, he added.
The mere fact that not all of the bikes have yet been stolen offers some hope for the scheme’s future, Biryukov said. However, such projects cannot be operated by volunteers or private companies without support from public funds, as the experience of dozens of cities across the world has indicated, he added.
Biryukov said that while any free bike projects are welcome and would improve the situation in the city, it would be less confusing for users if there were a unified color scheme and rules. Olga Mnishko, an activist with the Velosipedizatsiya Sankt-Peterburga project (i-bike-spb.ru), who spoke at the roundtable, said that she hopes for the eventual unification of all free bike projects in the city. Velodrive’s general director Kirill Ostapenko said that in 2013, as many as 500 free bikes may be offered in total by all the similar schemes in the city, covering all of St. Petersburg’s districts.
Velosipedizatsiya has started a number of initiatives that aim to make cycling in St. Petersburg safer and more convenient, including petitioning City Hall to amend traffic rules to allow cyclists to ride in lanes reserved for public transport. A free safe-riding school (vk.com/bicycleschool) was started this year, providing guidance on accident reduction and traffic rules, Mnishko said. Safety precautions to be followed in St. Petersburg were outlined in a free leaflet (in Russian), which can be picked up at shops and cafes across the city.
Skatprokat printed a free brochure (also in Russian), which was compiled jointly with Time Out magazine and the traffic police department of the city’s Central District, specifying traffic rules that apply to cyclists. The police officially confirmed that riding on the sidewalk does not constitute an offense in and of itself, Biryukov noted.
Other cycling initiatives launched this year include a free bike route map of the imperial suburb of Peterhof compiled and printed by travel company Velorodeo. The company’s director Maxim Kleshchev said that this July’s Petrograd Academic Bikenight (Velonotte Pietrogrado), a free annual mass bicycle excursion focusing on architectural and cultural heritage, was crucial in raising awareness of cyclists by establishing a route from Peterhof to the city center.
A slightly more offbeat project called “Cycle Street Cleaner” is to be launched by Velodrive in 2013, offering free use of three-wheelers equipped to collect rubbish and to play “inspiring” music. Members of the public will be able to call on volunteers who man the bikes to come and collect rubbish where municipal cleaners’ efforts are insufficient. Ostapenko, Velodrive’s director, said he would personally volunteer to take part in the project, as would his employees.
In addition, a long-running free bike workshop that operates every Saturday from spring through autumn on Solyanoi Pereulok (bikeshop.tumblr.com), will offer maintenance and minor repair services provided by volunteers between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 6.
None of the City Hall officials whom Vecherny Peterburg invited to participate in its roundtable made an appearance. St. Petersburg’s bicycle transport development program has not yet been approved, and has no funding allocated by the city budget.