Testing the bike lanes «Made by Me»

Uwe Gnadenteich
, reporter
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Photo: Mihkel Maripuu

Fresh from a bicyclist-roundtable, the coterie pedals from Freedom Square down Pärnu Highway to Cosmos Movie Theatre. Lining the newly renovated street lies a wide bicycle lane. The initial 200 metres are pure delight. Then come the blasted cars, parked half way into the strip. Luckily, this is non-peak afternoon lull; otherwise the passing would be pretty problematic.

Up until spring, parking was allowed around here and the driver goes by memory, not the traffic signs. And the lines drawn to point out places for the cars are still semi-visible.

Talvo Rüütelmaa expresses hopes Municipal Police will establish order and teach all to honour the rules.

Marek Rannala, Doctoral student at Tallinn University of Technology, also notes a new crosswalk lies in middle of street-side parking lot, used to enter-exit the area. Mr Rüütelmaa vows to follow through.

Road marking muddy

At the Pärnu Highway and Tõnismäe Street crossing, the bicycles hit their first major traffic flow from another direction. Spotting the long string of bikers, car drivers turn watchful and all goes okay. For a lone rider – and at peak hour – things might feel quite different...

After the Pärnu Highway viaduct, the bunch pulls over. To discuss the marking. The lines drawn vary, from continuous to dotted. Adding to the confusion, both old and new lines show at places.

Dissatisfaction is expressed at the paining crew doing their thing ere the «erasers» had time to wipe the street clean. Thanks to the climate the old lines will soon be history, the specialists see a silver lining. Senior environment expert Mari Jüssi proposes the marking be renewed in spring, not at the beginning of autumn.

Will the bike lanes also get the one-way signs, wonders Mr Rannala. «Many bikers seem to feel it’s both ways – though I’d never think that. Or maybe paint the bike figures, or paint the entire line – in the top dangerous places?» he advises. Mr Rüütelmaa says Tallinn is way more traffic sign infested than many European cities... already.

«A pictogram is best, for bike lanes. That’s plain enough for the biker and the driver. And maybe add the arrows so the direction is clear,» says Mr Rüütelmaa.

Railway obstacle course

The idea is aired about risk zones painted red – just like at Tehnika St crossroads.

From the viaduct, between the houses, on we roll to Asula St, and from there to Kitseküla railway crossing – hated by all with bikes or prams. The path is obstructed by pipes, and to pass the obstacle course two 180-degree turns have to be performed.

Most bicyclists pass the trap by, so we aren’t the first to plough the nearby grass. City officials file «not guilty». Ms Jüssi says this is Estonian Railways’ thinking on safety.

Alo Kirsimäe of Road Administration traffic safety department hastens to explain: pursuant to law, a biker ought to walk while crossing railways, pushing the vehicle. We’re all sincerely surprised. And we all agree: even in that way the crossing would be a torture.

We do proceed. Along the bike lane along the Tehnika St edge. Doing this, we refute the myth of the new traffic islands narrowing the street to be dangerous for bike and car going parallel. Not the case at all – just takes some basic consideration.

Luckily, Tõnismäe is almost car-free at the moment we appear, so we can safely turn back around Charles XI Church. Here’s the dreaded spot of bike lane going diagonal over one for cars. For a moment, bikers stem the traffic. The drivers do not mind. Along the streets named Luise, Tehnika and Rohu, we pedal into Telliskivi and pull up at Balti Railway Station – to declare the trip finished.

Before parting ways, public utility and traffic officials sign a verbal pact: when planning next year’s road repairs, they will look further than the object at hand. So as to avoid the situation now rather prevalent – a street or a section of it may be fixed and the traffic arranged, but afterwards let the biker find his own miserable way.