Economic Policy Review ISSN 1313 - 0544

The cycling problem in Sofia

Author: Metodi Lazarov / 26.04.2007
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During the past week the municipal commission "Youth, Sports and Tourism" approved the proposal, dealing with the creation of better terms to ride a bicycle in Sofia. The paper says that bicycle lanes will be taken into account when planning new streets as well as when already constructed streets are undergoing current repairs. The municipal parliament will be requiring from Boyko Borissov the creation of a common scheme for bicycle traffic so that the implemented map could be published online. Initially six bicycle lanes are planned to be introduced which would create a base for cheap, safe and smooth movement throughout the city and provide an alternative to using public transport or cars.

Nicely put in words but hard to be accomplished in a city where any free space is a potential parking spot and no political actions are taken to alleviate the problem on traffic. We have previously declared that the most effective and plausible way of "popping" congested cities' hearts is by introducing and differentiating taxes on car access. New York, London and Athens are appropriate examples for explosively growing cities which concentrate great crowds to relatively small areas and nevertheless succeed in coping with the traffic by using the so-called "congestion pricing". Taxing traffic, however, is an unpopular political move and thus, not expected to be taken soon in Sofia, even though the construction of a taxation system could be shifted to the private sector and the municipality would register no unnecessary expenses. The negative externalities from traffic jams have become a serious burden upon our European capital - excessive loss of time (and the incurred economic losses), waste of fuel, higher pollution of the environment, more costs to drivers and the municipality diverted to  maintenance of cars and streets. That is why traffic needs to be mitigated by better management. Examples of the problems on road include uncoordinated lights, trash being collected in rush hour and dangerously behaving drivers.

City traffic could accurately be evaluated in a mathematical model because of the limited number of participants and limited freedom of action. If you look at the classic traffic jam problem in which six persons are allocated to seven spots and each one of them hops over the others to get to the other end, a model of city traffic would resemble the same concept but calculated by a more complex function. Imagine that - three of the participants in our math example face the other three while being separated by a free spot - that same way Sofia daily sees 100,000 cars waiting on a light for another 100,000 to pass. While the minimum number of moves of the math problem is fifteen, human behavioural studies and traffic load are only a couple of the subjective terms that could be quantified and employed in a math model of Sofia's traffic.

Seoul tracks cars' and pedestrians' traffic in real-time so that it could coordinate lights and ease the advance of all participants. Radios, informing of free routes, are common around the world and alleviate traffic from busy junctures. Traffic could also be examined as a social model besides the already described features of a possible physical model. Studies[i] show that changing lanes does not always help your advance because it is not done on rational reasons but because of emotional strives of the typical driver in Sofia. The participant does not also realize that he himself contributes to the traffic jam and increases the time span of the other drivers.

The above mentioned considerations are only samples of what could be taken into consideration to ameliorate traffic's management. Only after having created a basic model to predict traffic, the municipality could start planning for the needs of people riding bicycles, because a radical and all-embracing change is needed - not an ineffective reform, done piece by piece. Market principles would bring innovation (such as the exampled management) because the slow transfer through Sofia is a failure of the governing power which monopolistically controls the basic service of transport. Management of Sofia's traffic needs to be shifted upon the private sector which would then introduce taxing mechanisms as the most effective way of solving this long-term issue. I am absolutely sure that cycling Sofia would look much different than any plans of the municipality. It is simply a question of demand and supply.


[i] Donald Redelmeier, of the University of Toronto, and Robert Tibshirani, of Stanford