Extract from the interview with Maria Precup, Mayor of Reghin, Deputy Mayor Marian Ovidiu Mihai, bike activist Jeno Ujfalusi and architect Klaus Birthler on 7 May 2016

Duration: 42 min

Kloss: How do you get people on bikes in Reghin?

Precup: It is really difficult to build cycle paths in the city because our streets are so narrow, that’s why we try to focus on cycle paths around the city and one cycle path along the Mureș river. We try to find EU-funds for such projects because we have seen that in Hungary. We have to work also on the awareness because people use bikes more for sport and like a hobby and not as a necessity. We want to promote your action to the local TV so that people see your action.

Gruszyk: Do you try to reduce the number of cars in the city?

Precup: This is a problem because Reghin is a transit city so we have much and heavy traffic from Cluj. So this doesn’t depend on the municipality. There are not enough cyclists so we don’t build bicycle paths.

Gruszyk: It needs safe space to cycle, so if you give that to the citizens they will use the bike.

Kloss: It needs awareness and infrastructure, and the city really has to promote it in a broad way also in strategies and planning instruments.

Precup: We have a Mobility Plan, which should analyze how much is this transit traffic and how much is the local traffic and what could you get with bike lanes.

Kloss: Most distances covered in cities are shorter than 5km. These distances could be easily covered by walking or by bike. Transit motorized traffic could be replaced by attractive public transport.

Precup: It’s the first time we are having a public debate about cycling infrastructure in Reghin.

Precup: Our project is to build bicycle paths around the town, because Reghin is quite a small town with narrow streets, so it is difficult to introduce bike paths within the city for people to use on their way to work or to cross the centre of the town by bike. However, our project is about building bike paths on the river dam and to build a path that connects Reghin with Târgu Mureș and Toplița along the Mureș river.

We saw that in Hungary, next to every highway there is a bike path, financed by EU funds as well.

But we still have to work on the mentality of the people to accept the bike as a means of transportation to reach work or to do their shopping, because here young people who love biking are practicing it as a sport and as a hobby and not as a necessity or utility.

Mihai: For some years now I am also using the bike and I have started posting images with myself where I was biking, soon a lot of people started posting as well and I have realised how many people there are who practice biking, and not only as amateurs, but towards professional biking.

Precup: I think it is a great idea, that they (e. n. Ewa and Roland) came from civilised countries with their initiative, because it helps reduce a sort of ”shame” for using the bike, and we should bring their project and what they did in Romania to the attention of the public– in the press, tv and on social media.

Now we are dealing with the problem of the bypass that should go around the town, (towards Breaza for Cluj-Napoca and towards Solovăstru for Iași) – it seems like the only way to deviate heavy traffic out of the town. Now, as we go through the town, everybody wishes for this, because it is very crowded. Especially in the Unirii area, there are complaints about vibrating windows because of the heavy traffic and so on. The town was not built to accommodate heavy traffic, but unfortunately there is a delay about the bypass, which is an investment in the masterplan, that can not be altered or accelerated by the municipality.

Mihai: I think there is also another problem: there is a reduced number of cyclists, who are using these public roads, their number is smaller than it should be.

Precup: And I think drivers would be upset if we took their road space.

Ujfalusi: If you look at the one-way streets in Targu Mures, you can notice that on the right side, there is a bike path, so the bike has a priority.

Precup: Yes, that is true, but the problem is that we do not have continuity. In the centre, we could do it, because there are large streets, but otherwise, for example on Pandurilor street…

Birthler: You have contracted the mobility plan now, it will analyse the possibilities.

Precup: For people who go to work it is shameful to use the bike. After the revolution everybody managed somehow to buy a car for themselves, but before we were all using bikes as means of transportation. Now we have to work on the mental level, to make people understand that it is healthier for the body and the environment to use the bike. Can you see rich people without their luxury cars?

Birthler: It is important to know, and this will be analysed by the mobility plan, how much of the traffic is local and how much is caused by transit and how much could you reduce with bike lanes.

I would rather use the train to come to Reghin from Targu Mures, because during the 45 minutes journey, I can get some work done, read my emails, while I can not do this on the bus and even less if I am driving by car.

Precup: Yes, the train is also problematic. But this depends on the national strategy and masterplan. The public transport is an important issue for us, we acquired three new buses and we are writing the masterplan in order to attract more funds in order to be able to replace the old buses with new ones, depending on needs during the day, so that you don’t use the energy for a 50 people bus, when there are only 10 travelling.

However, in order to finance such a project, we need the local masterplan first.

It was an existing project and we could not intervene anymore for the new street. But, the truth is, that we did not regard this issue with the appropriate seriousness, we did not identify this need and this need did not result in our strategy either; we have to admit this.

Only lately, since we have been to the Netherlands, we have realised how good it is for your health and how relaxed the traffic is over there.

Mihai: The strategy that has been elaborated last year took the wishes of the citizens very seriously, and the bike paths were not an issue that concerned them.

Precup: But indeed, we can go the other way around: creating the needed infrastructure and encouraging people to use it afterwards, so people realise that it is there for a reason.

Mihai: As Jenö Ujfalusi said, we could use some routes as a trial and see what people think about them.

Precup: On the river dam, it would not be a problem; we only need the agreement of the Romanian Water Administration.

Ujfalusi: But cars would get on those bike paths, ATVs…

Precup: Yes, that is another problem.

Birthler: Indeed, but everything has a solution, if it is planned properly.

Ujfalusi: I would do it like this: contracting an external association, who should set a strict set of rules, and watch out that people respect them.

Birthler: To Romania, they (e. n. Ewa and Roland) travelled on bike paths along the highway, along the river and so on. It would be interesting to know, how the problem of property is handled there, so that they could build the bike paths.

Mihai: Our legislation is very restrictive so this kind of project is very hard to implement.

Precup: But I think the administration of existing bike paths would not be such a big problem. The bigger problem is how to get there – having the paths built. And then you can send the police to watch over them and so on.

Ujfalusi: They could be police officers on segways – they have an incredible mobility.

Precup: I have also seen them in the Netherlands; police officers ride bikes and they are not ashamed. They see things differently.

I have a reservation towards public-private partnerships, because they leave room for interpretation. And often people think, when you do this kind of partnership, that you are looking for certain personal interests. It’s a mentality problem.

After we get the mobility plan, we can have a round table with those who are interested in this issue and we can create a project together. We can assign public money for this kind of project (local, national or European money). When I saw that in Hungary, they have bike paths next to every highway, I wanted to cry – look at them, how smart they are, and what have we done?

As I am more conservative, or older, I never make decisions without consulting those who are specialised in certain problems or who wish to solve certain problems. We were never asked for bike paths, we never had this kind of talk.

Every year there is a critical mass event, but we never had this kind of open, constructive talk about this issue.

Birthler: The truth is that, compared to Targu Mures, there are much less participants here.

Precup: Yes, indeed.

Birthler: About 15-20 people participate.

Precup: The only way to relax the traffic in the town is to build those bypasses around the town, so that inside the town only local people and transportation are left, no transitory traffic. It is the only way, because we are talking about an historic town, where you cannot take measures to enlarge or modify the streets.

We thought about making bike paths on secondary streets, but as you know, those are much narrower than the main streets – barely 2 cars can fit. Now we are repairing secondary streets and we cannot get more than 3-4 meters wide streets, because the space between buildings is around 5-6 meters. The only way would be the bypasses, which do not depend on us.

After we have bypasses, we can realise bike paths in the town without a problem on any streets and we can try to turn more streets into one way streets.

Mihai: Of course, taking into consideration a unitary mobility plan. Surely, after we have these bypasses, implementing bike paths will be much easier, in our opinion.

If we use bikes more, there will be an improvement on the environment, on our health, on the local economy, but as our Mayor said, these things are taken into consideration in a medium/long term plan, as now it might be the first time when we have a discussion regarding this issue.

Precup: I also want to add that we have a traffic board, composed by the road police chief, representatives of the taxi drivers, of public transport, local councillors, who make traffic decisions.

Mihai: I think we have to consider mobility decisions unitarily, not punctually creating bicycle paths; because if we did this right now on one or two streets, a conflict between drivers and cyclists would emerge, and this is not our goal. If we create one-way streets with bike paths, we have to make sure it is used and that people understand its meaning, because otherwise we create tensions between the two categories and it would be ideal that the need for this comes from within, that people wish for this to happen.

Precup: We should mediatize this, so we open the dialog towards this.

We should introduce representatives of the bikers’ community into the traffic board, which is meeting every month or once every two months, as needed, so they are involved in the traffic decision making; as well as pedestrians.

Birthler: The bikers should choose the representative they would like to send to the board.

Precup: It should be someone who knows about their issues and who is a driver as well, so he can see it from both perspectives.

Mihai: In my opinion, as president of the traffic board, I have the experience that when we want to make a street more accessible, for example when we want to make a one way street, drivers often oppose this idea, because they would have to go around; so many times, 7-10 people come to appeal our decision, because they don’t want to go around. So, we have to work on the mentality, so people are more accepting of measures that are better for everyone.