Freedom to Ride
Kevin Bersett tells you how to pedal your way around Prague and beyond.
But if you escape the pressure dome of the city, the suburbs, parks and countryside offer a broad range of biking options.
A good place to start is one of Prague’s parks. Prague 6 and 7 boast three major parks offering dirt and paved trails in idyllic and sometimes secluded settings. The most conventional and accessible of the three from the city center is Letná park, just across the Vltava River from Old Town. This big city park offers a network of paved trails for bikers, pedestrians and rollerbladers. The flat terrain is welcoming, and the beer garden in the park’s southeast corner provides post-ride refreshment with a killer view of the city.
Just north of Letná is Stromovka park. This more heavily wooded area offers a labyrinth of paved trails that wind through a picturesque setting. A bridge on the north end takes you across the Vltava to the Troja area. A park area to the east of the Troja Palace offers some dirt trails, or you can follow a path north along the river past the zoo and head for the countryside.
Further west, out past Dejvice in Prague 6, is one of Prague’s jewels, Divoká Šárka park, a mammoth forest preserve home to miles of paved and dirt trails. Starting at Metro A stop Dejvická, proceed west to find numerous entry points. The main paved trail leads from the lake down past the swimming pool through a valley, which features a rolling creek and huge cliffs. Once you’re within the cliff area, there are numerous jumping-off points to more secluded terrain.
Prague 4 features several large parks and is the jumping off-point for one of the country’s most popular bikeways, the Prague-Vienna Greenways. This 275-mile stretch consists of six different greenways that follow the Vltava River Valley in Southern Bohemia and the Dyje River Valley in Southern Moravia on your way to Vienna. Bikers follow country roads and pass through many of the Czech Republic’s most beautiful historical towns such as Tábor, ?eské Bud?jovice, ?eský Krumlov and Mikulov in Moravia.
The trailhead can be reached by bike trail Nr. 1 along Vltava then by trail in Prague 4, or by taking metro A to Háje. Hotels, restaurants and other amenities line the trail, and free maps can be acquired at information centers along the way.
The Czech Greenways, formed by a group of Czechs and Americans interested in preserving the environment and local heritages, helped form the Prague-Vienna Greenways in the mid-nineties by connecting 100-year old hiking trails. You can go by tour alone or with a group. The average cost without a tour is 500 - 1000 K? and takes between four to seven days, according to Daniel Mourek, International Affairs Coordinator for the Greenways Program.
The Czech Greenways has also helped form another large network of greenways called the Moravian Wine Trails in southern Moravia. The main Moravian wine trail meanders through vineyards and villages from Znojmo to Uherské Hradišt? for 150 miles and connects with nine more trails that take bikers to neighbouring wine areas.
In the north of the country, there are a number of trails as well, with many along the Labe River between Most and Doksy. Smuggler trail near Frýdlant offers a connection to German trails in Northern Bohemia, and numerous trails in Northern Moravia follow along the Odra River and connect with Slovakia and Poland, according to Mourek.
Let’s pull back from the countryside and examine the present biking situation in Prague. As mentioned, the environment is not very pleasant for local bikers. Unlike other major cities, Prague has no yellow bike system (in which yellow bikes are placed around the city center for common use), nor are there bike racks. And according to local bike activists, city authorities are in no rush to change this situation.
“Prague 2, 4, and 13 are developing trails mostly for recreational purposes,” Mourek said. “Commuter trails are literally non-existent and the city doesn’t invest money at all, or very little. This year, 10.7 million K? will go for trails, which represents .08 percent of the transportation budget for Prague.”
Talk to Czechs about biking and the response is bound to be negative.
“I don’t think it’s too healthy,” said Jaroslav Bulí?, a mountain biker who prefers off-road riding outside of Prague. “It would be nice to take a bicycle instead of a car or public transport, but I am rather pessimistic.”
Todd Edelman, an American in Prague via San Francisco and New York City, would like Prague to become as bike-friendly as its counterparts in Western Europe, and has an answer for every argument against biking in Prague.
“Brussels has bicycle structure and Prague has nothing,” he said, explaining why people bike extensively in Brussels and not here. He thinks a little money and collaboration could go a long way. As for Prague being too hilly, Edelman points to his former home of San Francisco which is every bit as hilly but still has tons of bikers. And as for the Czech drivers, Edelman admits the situation is bad, but not relative to some other cities.
“Having ridden a lot in San Francisco and New York, I don’t find the drivers [here] that bad,” he said. “The problem is [the] few nasty drivers and the unskilled enthusiastic drivers, to be polite.”
He says the question of safety is more about perception than statistics.
“The centre of city is not built for cars [and] it is not really built for bicycles. It is built for pedestrians and horses,” he said. “Though of course, I think it could be adapted to bicycles with commitment and a minimal expenditure compared to highways in the city and country.”
Edelman, a 36-year-old non-profit veteran, formed a civic association earlier this year called Cyklistika a energie budoucnosti (CEB) which is working closely with the Czech Environmental Partnership on a few projects, including a new bike path that would wind through parts of central Prague. The project calls for a 5 km partly on-street, off-street trail that would begin at Wenceclas Square, proceed through Nové M?sto, touch the northern end of Vinohrady and continue through Žižkov and eventually end in Jarov in Prague 3.
Edelman points to the benefits of the trail, which is to be called Žižkov Centrum Cyklo Cesta. He said it would only cross busy streets a couple of times, it would connect thirteen schools in the area, including the School of Economics, and would connect directly to M?stek and Muzeum metro stations and indirectly to Ji?ího z Pod?brad and Flora. It would also connect with the Cycle Route One which goes from the centre through Karlín to ?erný Most. Hopefully one day the path would connect with the Prague-Vienna Greenways via the Boti? route which is currently under construction. Edelman also hopes to work with restaurants and businesses along the proposed route to make the area more bike-friendly.
In the meantime, he wants to promote the democratic process and overall sustainable growth. He has applied for grant money and hopes to get the city interested in the project, but as of yet he has received no money and has no set dates for completion.
Edelman has a lot of statistics showing the positive impact bikes can make on a city from reducing traffic and pollution, but ultimately the official and public response will determine the success of the project.
One progressive biking element that has already been established in Prague is Critical Mass, a world-wide phenomenon in which bikers take to the streets once a month to promote bicycle awareness. The Prague group meets between 5:30 and 6 p.m. on the third Thursday of every month near Ji?ího z Pod?brad. The mass bike trip winds through the city. Everyone is welcome. Just watch out for the traffic.
-Kevin Bersett is a journalist living in Prague. He can be reached at email@example.com
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