Challenges facing Cyclists
It is not uncommon to hear stories about bicycle accidents in Tbilisi. Though the stories are many, there is usually very little or nothing in the news about these accidents; unless there has been a death, other accidents are treated as insignificant. Media reports on bicycle accidents get diluted in the headlines. Titles tend to obscure the victims of these crashes to mere outcomes of a car accident, rather than a loss of life or limb of a cyclist.
In January of 2019, an online media agency reported on a car accident at the Didi Dighomi turn, which resulted in the death of a cyclist. The cyclist was a seasoned and avid rider who had been cycling for a long time and was well know and respected by other cyclists in the city. The accident and the death was a shock. In an interview with a group of cyclists, none seemed to know what was the outcome of the accident and whether the driver had faced penalties under the investigation that was launched citing Article 276, part 5 of the Criminal Code. In 2019, in Tbilisi alone there were 2891 traffic accidents recorded. In the same year, accidents involving a bicycle throughout Georgia was 47, which resulted in 3 deaths, one of which was reported in the news, while the other 2 seem to have not gotten a mention in the media.
In other European countries and the Scandinavian countries, cyclists have right of way, and bicycle paths are coloured red, so that there is no mistaking a pedestrian lane versus a bicycle lane. These countries have given utmost priority to cyclists and encourage it. In the Netherlands, it is said that there are more cyclists aged 50 now then there were 5 years ago, since the cyclists feel safe to be on their bicycles. It is not only about being environmentally aware and friendly, but there are a lot of other sustainability factors that cycling tackles in the background. Other cities in Europe like Paris have been encouraging bicycle share, so as to reduce the number of cars within the city limits. In Toronto, Canada and also in Washington DC, USA the city took a gamble and introduced shared bicycles before having designated paths, which caused a rise in commuters which in turn led to the city charting out cycling lanes that have become terribly popular with residents and tourists alike.
Tbilisi city however is trying hard to incorporate bicycle lanes into the infrastructure of the roads, with several main roads having lanes that are specific for cyclists to use. Giorgi, an everyday bicycle commuter in Tbilisi says, “It is interesting how these paths have been made like a labyrinth, snaking in and out of traffic and pavements,” he continues almost sarcastically, “as a cyclist I have to cross the roads like a pedestrian several times to be on the designated bicycle path on Pekini Avenue.” On further investigation about the bicycle paths that the city built, the member of the Community Cycling Network CCN in Tbilisi said, “Though we are the ones who cycle, the city gets experts from Milan and Koln to come and tell them about the cycling paths,” she continued to say that the cycling path on Dolidze Road was treacherous for cyclists as it was not smooth riding but rather a cyclist had to be very weary of bus stops, the buses and people near the station, cars and flinging doors of cars parked on the side of the road, and sometimes even on the bicycle paths. Furthermore, cyclists are now forced to share these paths with the new electric scooter transport system that has been introduced into the city and many more times with pedestrians who tend to ignore clear markings on these paths for bicycles. “Chavchavadze Road is another nightmare,” said Irakli. “It is not like city commuting when cycling on the road, but rather like an obstacle course in a competition and I seem to be getting better everyday, or I am just learning to conform,” he added.
“I took the least intrusive route possible when cycling to school from Vake to Digomi, and I still could not prevent getting honked at,” said Dustin, a bicycle commuter and teacher in Tbilisi for a year, lamenting that drivers curse him in a language he does not understand, but understands gestures, demanding he moves onto the sidewalks while pedestrians curse him onto the roads. “Without a bike lane, you’re the minority — everybody hates you. Tbilisi and the outskirts have a lot of bicycle trails that are used by bicycle enthusiasts who either compete in off-road race challenges and stunts. Drivers on the roads are known to suggest to cyclists that they stick to those areas and leave the roads to the cars. Bicyclists on Zviad Gamsakhurdia Bank between Ortachala and the Public Service Hall are faced with a dilemma every morning as Mykhaylo Aleksyeyenko, the owner of Volto Bikes explains. “I cycle everywhere, and drivers invade the cycle lanes. Worst place is near Ortachala where the lanes for cyclists are both on the same side, and the drivers just use the designated lane as an extra lane to overtake or maneuver around traffic during rush hours.” There is no solution being provided by the city despite the many incidents in the area.
Mar Mikhelidze, a cyclist and Glovo delivery girl met with an accident several years ago when a truck swerved into her path and knocked her down, and left her there without even checking what had happened. Despite not being severely hurt, she could not continue cycling as her bicycle front wheel and fork were mangled. She managed to call her friend who owns a bicycle shop where she met with several other cyclists who insisted that she call the police and tell them about the incident. The police eventually found the truck driver, who accepted his fault and agreed to pay for the damages and repairs to her bicycle. The matter was resolved without any bookings or case hearing. “Better than when my brother had an accident, which was so bad that he stopped cycling altogether.’ says Mar with a quizzical smile.
It could be a matter of life and death sometimes.